The space shuttle Endeavour honored wounded ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords before landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Thursday at the tail end of a cross-country trip to Los Angeles to begin its final mission as a museum exhibit.
The specially modified Boeing 747 with the newly retired spaceship perched on its back touched down safely at 12:50 p.m. local time (3:50 p.m. EDT) at Edwards, about 100 miles (160 km) north of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert.
NASA retired its shuttle fleet last year after completing the U.S. portion of the $100 billion International Space Station, a permanently staffed research complex that is owned by 15 nations and orbits about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.
Endeavour embarked on its last cross-county “ferry” journey on Wednesday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and made several low-altitude passes over NASA centers in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas before stopping for the night at Ellington Field near the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The trip resumed early on Thursday, with Endeavour and its carrier jet making additional flyovers - one over Tucson, Arizona, in a salute to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, the retired astronaut who commanded Endeavour’s final flight on his last mission in late May 2011.
Giffords, still recuperating from a gunshot wound to the head suffered in an attempt on her life last year, watched the flyover from the roof of a Tucson parking garage with her husband and mother, according to former aide C.J. Karamargin, who joined them.
“When it came into view, Mark said, ‘There’s my plane!’” Karamargin recounted. “Gabby was just elated, hooting and hollering like the rest of us were.”
From Arizona, Endeavour and its carrier jet flew on to California, where the spacecraft was built two decades ago, for the landing at Edwards Air Force Base.