Space Shuttle Endeavour flies over state
The Space Shuttle Endeavour will grace the skies of southern New Mexico one last time on Wednesday, Sept. 19, as she piggybacks aboard a Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft on her way to her final home at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
Throughout the Space Shuttle program, employees of the NASA White Sands Test Facility outside of Las Cruces have worked to ensure the safety of the shuttles and their crews. In addition to WSTF, the White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base have stood by to support every mission with a contingency landing facility at the White Sands Space Harbor.
The Space Harbor was used once for a space shuttle landing for the Orbiter Columbia, but was continuously used for crew training until the retirement of the program in 2011. A fortuitous location along the flight path to California means these employees that have worked so hard for so many years, as well as their friends and families will, weather permitting, have one last chance to see Endeavour on her final journey.
The current schedule has Endeavour leaving Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard the modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (NASA 905) on Sept. 17. After flyovers of other NASA facilities that have supported the program and nearby cities, the piggybacked aircrafts will land in Houston, the home of NASA's Mission Control at Ellington Field for a full-day stop.
Weather permitting, Endeavour will leave Houston early on Sept. 19, landing at Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso to refuel, and then performing a low pass flyover of the White Sands Missile Range main post area.
Crossing over the San Andres Mountains, Endeavour will fly over WSTF, and then fly low over Las Cruces before turning west and overnighting at Edwards Air Force Base before the final leg to Los Angeles International Airport. The estimated time of the flyover is between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. local time.
The weather could play a major spoiler role. Bad weather along the flight path could postpone the schedule, or in a worst case, force a more northerly route resulting in cancellation of the planned flyover for WSMR, WSTF and Las Cruces.
The newest space shuttle in the fleet, Endeavour was built as a replacement to the Space Shuttle Challenger and first flew in 1992. Endeavour flew into space 25 times, completing 4671 orbits of the Earth, and traveling over 122 million miles. The second to last flight of the Space Shuttle Program, STS-134, was Endeavour's last flight to the International Space Station, launching on May 16, 2011, and landing on June 1, 2011.
A total of five operational space shuttles were produced during the Space Shuttle Program, which spanned from 1981 to 2011. The three remaining shuttles, plus Enterprise, a prototype shuttle designed to test space shuttle behavior in atmospheric flight, were retired in April 2011 and after decommissioning, will be displayed permanently at locations across the country.
Enterprise, the first orbiter built, was moved from the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia to the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum in New York. Shuttle Discovery is now located at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. Shuttle Endeavour will take her place in Los Angeles's California Science Center and finally, Shuttle Atlantis will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex in Florida.
WSTF employees have been treated to a few other space shuttle flyovers. On March 30, 1982, Space Shuttle Columbia landed at the White Sands Space Harbor (then known as Northrup Strip) at the conclusion of STS-3. In addition, two other ferry flights from landings at Edwards Air Force Base back to the Kennedy Space Center provided opportunities to fly over WSTF. In June 1994, Endeavour flew over WSTF following a California landing at the end of STS-59. Most recently, on June 1, 2009 after completing mission STS-125 with a landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California, Space Shuttle Atlantis flew low over WSTF before passing in front of the Organ Mountains on her way to an overnight stop at Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso.
Despite mixed emotions associated with the Space Shuttle Program ending, employees of WSTF and WSMR are hoping for clear weather so they have the opportunity to see Endeavour take to the skies one final time, and hopefully our friends and families in Las Cruces will be able to share the view.
The flight plan has Endeavour flying north from Biggs Army Airfield, over the WSMR main post, then east to gain altitude before turning west and flying over San Augustin Pass. Once over the pass, Endeavour will turn north, overflying the NASA facilities, make a 180 degree turn and fly over the NASA facilities a second time, then turn west and follow US 70 over Las Cruces before gaining altitude again and heading west toward California.