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Space shuttle Endeavour lands in California, nears retirement home

Story highlights

  • Former shuttle commander Mark Kelly, Gabby Giffords watch flyover
  • Orbiter Endeavour, atop 747, lands at Edwards Air Force Base
  • NASA plans some low-altitude flyovers so people can get a good look Friday
  • The retired shuttle is headed towards a museum in Los Angeles

The space shuttle Endeavour landed Thursday at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the latest stage in its transcontinental voyage to retirement.

The orbiter's final destination is the California Science Center in Los Angeles, but it still has some sightseeing to do before it goes on display.

On Friday, Endeavour, atop a modified jumbo jet, will do several flyovers in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles -- weather permitting.

Upon arrival at Los Angeles International Airport, the orbiter will be removed from its perch aboard the Boeing 747 it has piggybacked for three days.

NASA said the shuttle will be moved over roads on October 12-13 to its final spot at the science museum.

On Thursday, it flew low over Tuscon, Arizona, where Mark Kelly, who was the commander on the last Endeavour mission, watched with his wife, former congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

Kelly, who was in space when Giffords was shot and six others were killed in January 2011, said it was emotional to see the orbiter again.

"The space shuttle is really a testament to American engineering and ingenuity," he told CNN affiliate KOLD. "It is the most amazing spacecraft ever built, by far."

His wife had watched the launch of his mission but missed the landing, so it was great for her to see the shuttle in the air, he added.

Endeavour, along with Discovery, Enterprise and Atlantis, became a museum piece after NASA ended its 30-year shuttle program in July 2011.

Two other shuttles -- Challenger and Columbia -- were destroyed in accidents that killed all aboard. Challenger exploded shortly after launch in 1986, and Columbia broke apart upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere in 2003.

Watch: Trees removed to make way for Endeavour

Touring space shuttle Endeavour

    Just Watched

    Touring space shuttle Endeavour

Touring space shuttle Endeavour 02:04
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Endeavour shuttle piggybacks 747

    Just Watched

    Endeavour shuttle piggybacks 747

Endeavour shuttle piggybacks 747 01:19
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Endeavour's three-day piggyback flight was divided into three legs that could be described as scenic routes to showcase the shuttle to the public.

"Social media users are encouraged to share their Endeavour sightings using the hashtags #spottheshuttle and #OV105, Endeavour's orbiter vehicle designation," NASA said.

Wednesday's leg took Endeavour to Houston, with flyovers along Florida's Space Coast, Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

As Endeavour bid farewell to Kennedy Space Center, it elicited strong emotions from people -- such as CNN iReporter Randy Lathrop of Cocoa, Florida -- who have lived with the shuttle program nearby for decades.

"It's the last time that she'll ever be at her home base again. It strikes a chord of nostalgia in you because she's done so many flights from the space center. This is her home," Lathrop said.

A short history of Endeavour

Named for the first ship commanded by British explorer James Cook, Endeavour rolled off the assembly plant in Palmdale, California, in 1991 at a cost of $1.7 billion. It was the baby of the shuttle fleet, built as a replacement for Challenger.

Over the next 20 years, Endeavour flew some of the most high-profile shuttle missions, covering 25 flights and nearly 123 million miles. It flew a Spacelab mission and numerous International Space Station assembly missions and rendezvoused with Russia's Mir Space Station.

Read more space and science news on CNN's Light Years blog