Away it goes: Endeavour takes flight

Away it goes: Endeavour takes flight

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Space shuttle Endeavour soared into the Florida sky for the last time early Wednesday, but it wasn't on a mission into space. NASA's youngest orbiter is instead on a cross-country ferry ride that will end at a California museum.

Two days late because of weather, NASA's 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft revved up its four engines just after sunrise and lifted off into hazy skies from the same runway where Endeavour landed after its final space mission more than a year ago. The piggy-backed Endeavour then made the same loop down the Space Coast that sister ship Discovery made during its ferry flight to Washington, DC in April.

Thousands of spectators were expected to line the beach for the last glimpse of a space shuttle in the sky. Atlantis, the final remaining orbiter, will remain on display at Kennedy Space Center's Visitor Complex and won't need a ferry flight.

The shuttle fleet's rockets fell silent last July with the final launch of the program. Since then, the spacecraft have been undergoing a decommissioning process that involved the removal of their thrusters, rocket engines, airlocks, and -- in Endeavour's case -- even its robot arm.

Eventually, Endeavour will go on permanent display at the California Science Center. The museum has ambitious plans to display the orbiter in its launch configuration -- pointing skyward, bolted to replicas of the solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank. But it has to get to Los Angeles first.

Endeavour's 450-mph flight across the country is a relatively slow trip, considering the craft used to cover that same 2,500-mile distance in less than nine minutes while in orbit. It will include a few flyovers of other NASA facilities and a layover in Houston, where Johnson Space Center employees are getting a glimpse of the craft whose missions they managed for two decades.

It landed safely in Houston on Wednesday.

After arriving in Los Angeles, the shuttle will spend a few weeks in a temporary hangar at the airport before the final leg of its journey.

The earthbound portion of the trip will feature the 170,000-pound orbiter towed -- by a Toyota pickup truck -- 12 miles from the LAX airport through Inglewood and into the city of Los Angeles, where the museum just south of downtown will place it on display.

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