HOUSTON — Hundreds of people cheered the space shuttle Endeavour Wednesday as it circled overhead and then landed in Houston, giving Space City a fleeting glimpse of a retired shuttle many locals feel should have been permanently displayed there.
As they held up their cameras, cellphones and tablets to get a final shot of NASA’s youngest shuttle riding piggyback on a jumbo jet, many people talked of the bittersweet feelings they had about Endeavour stopping in Houston only to head to a permanent museum exhibit in Los Angeles.
“I think it’s a pretty rotten deal, basically,” said Scott Rush, 54, of Crystal Cove, Texas.
NASA retired its shuttle fleet last summer, under direction of the White House, to spend more time and money on reaching destinations beyond low-Earth orbit. Asteroids and the planet Mars are on the space agency’s radar for crewed missions.
Houston, home to the Johnson Space Center and Mission Control, was one of the bidders for a permanent shuttle exhibit. It lost, and instead has received a mock-up from Kennedy.
“The one we’re getting is a toy. An important toy, but a toy nonetheless,” said Rush, wearing a T-shirt proudly proclaiming that he had witnessed NASA’s last shuttle launch.
Back-to-back delays in the ferry flight resulted in one day being cut from the Houston visit. But Wednesday dawned under bright sunshine and cooler-than-normal temperatures, drawing hundreds of excited people, many of whom brought their children or grandchildren along to see history in the making.
“I want to go on it,” said 3-year-old Joshua Lee as he headed to the landing area with his mother and grandmother.
Earlier Wednesday, hundreds gathered in Cape Canaveral to bid Endeavour farewell. The shuttle will spend the night in Houston before continuing its journey to Los Angeles International Airport, where it’s scheduled to land Friday.
In mid-October, Endeavour will be transported down city streets to the California Science Center.
This is the last flight for a space shuttle. Atlantis will remain at Kennedy for display. Discovery is already at the Smithsonian Institution, parked at a hangar in Virginia since April.
Endeavour – the replacement for the destroyed Challenger shuttle – made its debut in 1992 and flew 25 times in space before retiring. It logged 123 million miles in space and circled Earth nearly 4,700 times.