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NASA's last space shuttle on nostalgic flight to retirement home

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 6:38 PM EDT, Wed September 19, 2012
Space shuttle Endeavour passes over the Golden Gate Bridge before making its final landing in Los Angeles on Friday, September 21. The shuttle passed over California landmarks before heading to the airport. Endeavour will be placed on public display at the California Science Center. This is the final ferry flight scheduled in the Space Shuttle Program era. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/world/photography/index.html' target='_blank'>See more of CNN's best photography</a>. Space shuttle Endeavour passes over the Golden Gate Bridge before making its final landing in Los Angeles on Friday, September 21. The shuttle passed over California landmarks before heading to the airport. Endeavour will be placed on public display at the California Science Center. This is the final ferry flight scheduled in the Space Shuttle Program era. See more of CNN's best photography.
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Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Space shuttle Endeavour's journey to Los Angeles
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
Shuttle Endeavour's journey to L.A.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Space shuttle Endeavour to depart at dawn Thursday on the next leg of its journey
  • Endeavour landed in Houston earlier Wednesday, ending first stage of its cross-country flight
  • After a weather delay, NASA gave the green light for Endeavour to depart Florida
  • The shuttle's piggyback flight atop a jumbo jet to Los Angeles will conclude Friday

Share photos of shuttle Endeavour as it flies from Florida to California.

(CNN) -- The space shuttle Endeavour began its final aerial show on Wednesday, thrilling spectators across the southern United States before completing the first stage of its transcontinental voyage in Houston.

After a two-day delay due to unfavorable weather, Endeavour began its flight from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Los Angeles, where the now-retired spacecraft will be displayed.

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.

Touring space shuttle Endeavour
Space shuttle Discovery, mounted atop a 747 shuttle carrier aircraft, goes by the Washington Monument during a flyover of the nation's capital on its trip to retirement Tuesday, April 17. The flight -- the last time Discovery will be aloft -- took it from Florida's Kennedy Space Center to the Washington area, where it will spend retirement as a museum piece at an annex to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, near Dulles International Airport. Space shuttle Discovery, mounted atop a 747 shuttle carrier aircraft, goes by the Washington Monument during a flyover of the nation's capital on its trip to retirement Tuesday, April 17. The flight -- the last time Discovery will be aloft -- took it from Florida's Kennedy Space Center to the Washington area, where it will spend retirement as a museum piece at an annex to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, near Dulles International Airport.
Space shuttle Discovery flies into retirement
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Photos: Discovery flies into retirement Photos: Discovery flies into retirement
Endeavour shuttle piggybacks 747
A barge carries the Space Shuttle Enterprise past the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor on Wednesday, June 6. The shuttle is on its way to the USS Intrepid Museum, where it will be on display aboard the former aircraft carrier. A barge carries the Space Shuttle Enterprise past the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor on Wednesday, June 6. The shuttle is on its way to the USS Intrepid Museum, where it will be on display aboard the former aircraft carrier.
Shuttle Enterprise in the Big Apple
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Photos: Enterprise in the Big Apple Photos: Enterprise in the Big Apple

Watch: Trees removed to make way for Endeavour

Endeavour's three-day piggyback flight atop a modified jumbo jet is divided into three legs that could be described as scenic routes to showcase the shuttle to the public.

NASA expects Endeavour to draw crowds of onlookers as the Boeing 747 plots a course over space centers in at least five states and makes stops along the way.

The flying duo will dip to about 1,500 feet at many points, to afford a better view to spectators on the ground.

"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," he said.

A short history of Endeavour

NASA says that on Thursday, Endeavour is scheduled to depart Houston at dawn and then make a make a fueling stop at Biggs Army Air Field in El Paso before proceeding to Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

On Friday, Endeavour will embark on a tour of Northern California, dipping over NASA's Ames Research Center, Sacramento and San Francisco before heading back to Los Angeles, where it will become an exhibit at the California Science Center.

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

CNN's Ric Ward contributed to this report.

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