Like many of you, I got to see the space shuttle Endeavor riding piggyback this morning as she made her final flight on the NASA 747 toward her eventual exhibit at the California Science Center.
I almost forgot because the flight time was changed but lucky for me my sister called as it was flying across our valley and I got outside in time to see it glide directly over my office. It was loud and so low to the ground it seemed like you could see the eye color of the pilot! I didn't grab my phone--arrrrgh---- but my sister got a picture over where she was. My vantage point was the shuttle framed with blue blue skies and with the San Gabriel mountains behind her. This was actually the second time I had seen this. One time it flew right over the soccer field when I was coaching a game.
I felt a lot more emotional than I would have thought, and my daughter really didn't understand at all, but let me share with you my heritage of growing up in the Antelope Valley of California.
Some of you live-- or have lived-- here. Some of you may have no idea who we are.
We are an Air Force town. Edwards Air Force Base is just to our north east and Lancaster, where I live, is the nearest 'big city'. Edwards is where all the super secret test flights were performed and perfected. Edwards is where the space shuttle lands when it can't land in Florida and the only way to get it back there is to mount it on top of the 747 and fly it back there. The Space Shuttle is a giant glider. It has no power of it's own. Simply put ,the rockets shoot it up to space and then it just glides back down to earth. Amazing really. Even closer to my office--- about 3 miles away-- is Plant 42 where all the super secret planes are manufactured. This is where the B-1 bomber, the Stealth Fighters, the B-2 bomber (or the stealth bomber that looks like a bat wing) and all the space shuttles were made and repaired. I see all these aircraft flying around on an every day basis. I can usually even tell what they are by the sound they make. There are also lots of other aircraft and heaven only knows what they are doing there right now. When the first shuttle, Columbia was finished and ready to go back to Florida to make its first mission it was towed through our town just as the Endeavor will be towed through Los Angeles soon. The street where this was towed is the one I drive every day.
This picture was taken in 1981 and appeared in the National Geographic at that time. If you want to read the whole article CLICK HERE The article is certainly dated. My favorite part is where it states that regular people will be taking trips on the space shuttles by the 1990s. Ummm no that didn't happen.
My father worked all his adult life at the Rocket Propulsion Lab on the base. Back in the 1960s there were about 20,000 people here. Very small town. This is where I was birthed and have lived all of my 50 years. Except now there are more like 425,000 here. When I was a kid we lived and died by the aerospace industry as most everyone worked at Rockwell or Lockheed or Boeing or Northrup or at the base. About the time I was a teenager people figured out it was cheaper to live here (because who in their right mind wants to live in the desert where it is butt ugly 110 degrees in august and 20 degrees in January??) and it was possible to commute to the Los Angeles area (70 miles away). And then we were invaded.
Us old timers feel a huge amount of pride in the aerospace cultures and achievements. When the Challenger exploded it was devastating to us here-- we took it very personally. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard about it on the radio. We were very sad and mourned the loss in a personal way. After that happened they re-named that street up there in the picture Challenger Way.