Update: If you’re looking for photos from Endeavour’s trip through the LA streets in October, I’ve got those too.
And that’s it. The final flight of the space shuttle has come to an end.
The last shuttle landing I saw was Discovery in 1988. My family went out to Edwards Air Force Base to watch it land. I posted a photo essay on the event last summer when the shuttle flights stopped.
The 1988 landing was a normal Shuttle landing. It landed under its own power, from orbit, and it was all business. We civilians camped out all night on a dry lake bed, kept outside a fence so far away from the landing strip we could barely see the shuttle without binoculars.
This time it was being carried by an airplane, from another airport. Safety wasn’t any more of an issue than a normal flight, so they landed at a regular airport. (Though it was escorted by military aircraft.) And since it was the last-ever shuttle flight, there was a bit of showmanship to the flight plan:
I thought about trying to find a viewing area, but I work in a high-rise office building across the street from the airport. The 11th-story windows offer a great view of the south runway complex. The only downside is that the coating on the windows tends to distort the view. It’s not a problem for naked-eye viewing, since if you move even a little, your brain can correct for it. But for photos, it’s nice to have a clear view. And there’s also the matter of viewing angle.
Roof access, it turned out, wasn’t an option.
All they needed was a sign saying “Beware of the Leopard.”
It would have been nice not to have to worry about which side of the building to be on when…especially when they did an unexpected flyby on the other side of the building. Twice. *headdesk* I considered heading out to the parking structure at that point, but that would put me definitely on the wrong side for the landing.
A lot of the nearby parking structures had crowds of people with cameras, and at least one of the hotels had an actual rooftop viewing party.
So I went back to my desk after trying to spot the shuttle in the distance through the smog (not very likely). Around 12:40, a small group of my co-workers came in, one of them saying that the shuttle had just passwed Torrance, so she was heading over to the other office suite. I glanced out the window and said, “Holy @^%#^% it’s here,” grabbed my camera, and somehow managed to snap this shot:
(Let me just reiterate the fact that this photo was taken from my office! How awesome is that?)
As soon as it passed out of view, we headed out, some of us to one suite on the south side of the building, some to the north site under the apparently-mistaken impression that it was going to loop around on that side before making its final landing approach. That didn’t pan out, so we all headed over to the new suite on the south side, with its not-terribly-distorting windows.
We set up by the windows with cameras, cell phones, and binoculars, straining our eyes and necks to see some sign of where it was and watching the standby helicopters for some sign of activity. We started watching the people out on the parking structure across the street, since they had a clearer view to the east than we did, and finally, the shuttle came into view.
Its carrier airplane touched down practically in front of our building.
A few seconds later, it had rolled down the runway and out of view, and that was that.
Full photo set (13 images) at Flickr.
Update: I also went out to see it on the ground while it was being transported from the airport to the museum a month later.