LOS ANGELES (AP) — The people became the paparazzi Friday, aiming their lenses not at the latest starlet, but toward the sky to catch a glimpse of an aging superstar headed for retirement.
It was the space shuttle Endeavour, zigzagging around California where it was born and where it will spend its golden years as a museum showpiece.
From the state Capitol to the Golden Gate Bridge to the Hollywood sign, massive crowds of spectators pointed their cellphones and cameras skyward as the shuttle, riding piggyback atop a 747 jumbo jet, buzzed past.
"It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It was historic, momentous," said Daniel Pifko, who rode his motorcycle to a hilly peninsula north of San Francisco to snap a few pictures of the iconic bridge.
Across California, throngs swarmed rooftops for one last peek of Endeavour airborne. Parents pulled their kids out of school. Some became misty-eyed, while others chanted "USA! USA!" as the shuttle soared overhead.
Gina Oberholt screamed for joy when she spotted Endeavour from a scenic overlook in Los Angeles. She felt a bit nostalgic because her uncle had worked as a shuttle technician.
"I've always had a special place in my heart for the shuttle program," she said.
Known as the baby shuttle, Endeavour replaced Challenger, which exploded during liftoff in 1986. Endeavour rolled off the assembly line in the Mojave Desert in 1991 and a year later, rocketed to space. It left Earth 25 times, logging 123 million miles.
Friday's high-flying tour was a homecoming of sorts.
After a nearly five-hour loop that took Endeavour over some of the state's most treasured landmarks, it turned for its final approach, coasting down the runway on the south side of the Los Angeles International Airport, where elected officials and VIPs gathered for an arrival ceremony.
As the jumbo jet taxied to the hangar, an American flag popped out of the jet's hatch. Endeavour will stay at the airport for several weeks as crew prepare it for its final mission: a 12-mile trek through city streets to the California Science Center, its new permanent home, where it will go on display Oct. 30.
NASA retired the shuttle fleet last year to focus on destinations beyond low-Earth orbit. Before Endeavour was grounded for good, Californians were treated to an aerial farewell.
Endeavour took off from Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave desert Friday after an emotional cross-country ferry flight that made a special flyover of Tucson, Ariz., to honor its last commander, Mark Kelly, and his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
It circled the high desert that gave birth to the shuttle fleet before veering to Northern California. After looping twice around the state Capitol, it swung over to the San Francisco Bay area and Silicon Valley and then headed down the coast, entering the Los Angeles air space over the Santa Monica Pier. En route to LAX, it passed over a slew of tourist sites: Griffith Observatory, Dodger Stadium, Disneyland, the Queen Mary and USS Iowa in Long Beach harbor.
"Even though it was a few seconds, it was a unique experience to witness history," said Andrew Lerner, who gathered at the Santa Monica pier with his parents.
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