About 410,000 flag-waving, cheering people welcomed the arrival of the space shuttle Discovery as it coasted in from its four-day mission for a highly successful landing here Monday.
The crowd count at the east lake bed of Rogers Dry Lake, which makes up most of this huge desert base, was arrived at by U. S. Air Force estimators who counted sections of the crowd and then multiplied to arrive at the final number, said Don Haley, an Air Force spokesman. The huge crowd at the lake bed came in an estimated 109,000 vehicles, and Haley said that “there were almost no problems at all.”
It was the second-largest crowd to watch a shuttle landing. President Reagan attended a landing on July 4, 1982, when half a million people were looking on.
About 15,000 at Headquarters
The crowd at the headquarters area of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Dryden Flight Research Center numbered about 15,000.
Most of the shuttle watchers felt that Discovery’s safe return would reinvigorate America’s manned space program, which had been virtually paralyzed after the Challenger disaster.
“I certainly hope it does,” said Betty Davis, 66, of Goleta. “We need to spend our money on this. It’s exciting and patriotic.”
David Meyers of Santa Maria said: “It was one great thrill and certainly worth the trip.”
“It sends chills up my spine,” 26-year-old Steve Bestwick of Port Hueneme said as two sonic booms reverberated across Rogers Dry Lake at 9:34 a.m., three minutes before the touchdown.
The distinctive twin booms were heard and felt over a wide area of Southern California. Sheriff’s deputies at Santa Barbara said the booms shook a large area. At Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Station in northern Los Angeles County, deputies said the booms were distinctly heard.
Fast Turn Overhead
Shortly after the booms, the gleaming white-over-black Discovery appeared over the lake bed from the west and made a fast turn high overhead.
Bestwick marveled at how quickly it plummeted to the hard-packed floor of the Mojave Desert.
“That’s beautiful, but geez, it’s so steep,” he said.
“I had goose bumps all over,” said Diane Bonds, who traveled 600 miles from Roy, Utah. “I have always wanted to see one of these, and now I have.”
Dona Berry of Playa Del Rey said it was her second view of a landing, and “I loved to see it come in, and I’m so happy it came in safely,” she said.
George A. Stevenson, a Modesto elementary school teacher, had some reservations about his view. “It was sort of frustrating from where I was. I think I could have seen it better on television, but then the spirit of being here made up for it all.”
The Air Force provided 150 portable restrooms, which attracted long lines during most of the day.
‘This Is Really Something’
Ellery Sabin, 66, who had traveled from Ludington, Mich., perched atop his 33-foot motor home and surveyed the recreational vehicles, tents, cars and trucks stretching across the desert dotted with bizarrely twisted Joshua trees.
“This is crazy,” he exclaimed. “I’ve been around crowds, but this is really something.
“There’s such a sense of pride here,” Sabin said. “We need to continue with the space program. I don’t like to see them throw taxpayer money away on a lot of things, but this is certainly worth it.”