F3 – Farewell Endeavor


Marian convinced me to get up at the unheard of hour of 07:30 to go see the flyby of the Shuttle Endeavor.  Not only that, she persuaded our daughter, Elizabeth, to come over for the night from Santa Cruz, and go out with us.  I was privileged to see history.  I was sad because the decommissioning of Endeavor marks the end of the US Manned Space Program.

Endeavor Groupies Pat, Marian, and Elizabeth

When we learned NASA intended to perform a flyby of Endeavor in the Bay Area as it was being moved to Los Angeles for final decommissioning, we tried to find as much out as we could.  Information was vague, and seemed to change by the hour.  We went to Moffett Field, believing the shuttle might appear at 09:30, after spending some time at the Golden Gate Bridge.  We also believed there would be two passes.

Elizabeth and Marian waiting for the Endeavor at Moffett Field. Behind them is one of the three remaining hangers built to house Admiral Moffett’s lighter than air ships. The one pictured is being dismantled.

We parked in an HP lot just off of Ellis street, and walked the mile or so to the gate.  Along with hundreds of others, we were waved through the gate.  We made our way to an open space near the runway.  During our drive to Moffett Field, we had heard traffic descriptions which led us to believe there would be a huge crush of humanity.  The crowd was relatively light.  Traffic on US-101, just south of the main runway, seemed extremely slow.

Inside the perimeter of Moffett Field, near the fence guarding the runway. There were no special amenities, just crushed rock to stand on.

We spent our time waiting, uncertain of the progress of the flight.  Either because there are no towers, or because everyone was on their phone, it was very difficult to get a link.  So, we waited, largely disconnected from the net – a unique experience in Silicon Valley.

I marveled at the number of cameras.  I thought of 1812, when image recording was done via sketch or paint.  Of 1912 where there may have been Brownie Box Cameras.  And 2012, we may take more pictures than all other years combined.

The number of cameras was astounding. Even grammar school children had cameras or smart phones. Those rigged with professional equipment were far outnumbered by the average person – the onset of democratic pictures I guess.

We stood just outside the fence to the runway, in the belief that the 747 would fly down the length of the runway, at less than 200 feet.  Marian struck up a conversation with a woman from Israel.  Marian expressed sadness at the end of the Shuttle Program, and the only way we can get into space is at the sufferance of the Russians.  The woman was taken aback by Marian’s sadness, not agreeing with it.  She expressed, what I believe, is a common view by smaller nations.  She rightly believes Israel can only accomplish great things in cooperation with other countries, that its very survival depends on it.  She failed to grasp that America has been uniquely placed with abundant resources to solve large problems without external help.  The woman seemed glad that America no longer has the vision or will to implement great tasks anymore.

Looking across the runway, I could see the new buildings going up on the old Lockheed Martin campus – replacing the solid reality of Satellites with a cyber world having little in common with the physical world.

The plane was finally spotted, and we all turned our attention to the event.  Perhaps there had been an announcement over some PA system, but we heard nothing at our vantage point.  The star attraction had finally arrived, and a cheer went up from the crowd.

Others spotted the plane before I did. It took me several seconds to locate it. Cameras were coming up everywhere, as we adjusted to a different vector than we had been led to believe.

The 747 carrying Endeavor rapidly came into view.

The plane seemed much higher than the advertised 200 feet off the ground, and it was at least a half mile north of the runway, seeming to come straight down US-101 from San Francisco.

The crowd began to cheer as Endeavor came closer, celebrating a historic program of space exploration and exploitation.

It was fortunate that Marian and I were both taking pictures. My camera malfunctioned for several seconds, but she kept on clicking.

In the early stages of the Shuttle Program, a 747 was converted to be able to carrying a Shuttle. If you are old enough to recall when wide bodies first came into commercial service, they were given names. The Shuttle carrier was “Yorktown”, possibly in reference to the US Aircraft Carrier Yorktown, lost at Midway. The prototype which never flew in space was named Enterprise.

Endeavor can be clearly seen, mounted on the 747. The aerodynamics of the shuttle, including lift characteristics, have to be accounted for in flying the Yorktown.

The tail modifications to Yorktown were made to account for the different handling characteristics because of the Shuttle.

The Shuttle Program was launched in 1972, under then President Nixon.  Five shuttles were to be built.  During the course of the program, Shuttles Challenger and Columbia were tragically lost with all hands.  Endeavor is the newest of the shuttles, replacing Challenger.  There was no replacement for Columbia.

The covers for the three engines of Endeavor can be clearly seen. They were removed before launch. I do not know if they will remain on once Endeavor reaches its final destination.

Endeavor had made, what we hoped, was the first of two passes, rapidly receding into the haze. We hoped to see it make a wide turn and come back over, but that did not happen.

Much of the crowd stayed for several minutes, before finally admitting that NASA had no intention of putting on more than a minimal show. Perhaps the show at the Golden Gate Bridge had lasted longer, and been more extensive, which did not allow for an extended viewing in the South Bay.

I wonder if we will ever have a Manned Space Program again.  I have no confidence the current NASA team has the vision, courage, or leadership to inspire the country to greatness. In 2008, just before the change in US Presidents, NASA had finalized plans for Project Orion, which would have returned the United States to Space in 2011.  The new team at NASA immediately scrapped that plan, and is still struggling to come up with a successor to the Shuttle Program.  This team in 1960, would never have been able to see what President Kennedy saw, would never have challenged the Soviets for technical leadership in space, or go to the moon.  Even the great unmanned missions to Mars and the Outer Planets were largely built and launched by earlier NASA teams.  Farewell to our endeavors.


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Filed under Daughter, Family, Relationships

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