By Danny Gibble – WUFT-FM
The space shuttle Endeavour left the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 4:22 a.m. Wednesday atop a Boeing 747 to retire to its permanent home at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
CBS Radio Correspondent Peter King, who has witnessed many shuttle launches as well as the previous ferry transport of another retired shuttle, Discovery, was at the event.
“I think it’s always exciting as a reporter to be someplace where a milestone is happening – first or last,” he said.
Endeavour was the final shuttle to be moved by a Boeing 747. The other remaining shuttle, Atlantis, will be towed to the Kennedy Space Center’s visitor complex in November, King said.
Seeing the space shuttle is a very surreal experience, he said. It is an occurrence that cannot be mimicked by a television.
“It is the difference between watching a football game on TV and being there,” he said. “There’s nothing quite like the size of a space shuttle sitting on top of this 747 right before your eyes.”
The threat of thunderstorms pushed back the departure of Endeavour from Monday to Wednesday, which King thinks may be a reason for the decline in crowd size compared to what was present at the departure of Discovery.
“For Discovery, the first shuttle to leave and to go the Washington, D.C. area, it seemed like there were a couple of dozen astronauts and really several hundred people out at the runway,” he said. For Endeavour, he said, “there were still a lot of people that were along the beaches at Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral and other viewing spots and the Kennedy Space Center where they got flyovers before it headed west over Orlando and Disney World then onto the Gulf and then Houston.”
The trip to Houston from Kennedy Space Center was the first leg in the trip before heading to Los Angeles.
Nonetheless, the site of a space shuttle atop an airplane is quite a breathtaking and, because it is the last, saddening experience, he said.
The word he uses to describe the experience is “bittersweet.” He has been covering missions, launches and these shuttle departures, for 15 or 16 years and he said it is emotional to know the shuttles are never coming back.
King said the staff that has worked on Endeavour feels this way as well. Many of them, will lose their jobs because there is nothing left to do with the shuttle out of the way.
One woman who worked with the shuttle told him, “it’s like seeing your kids go off to school.”
King can also relate to the moving experience of watching such a sizable piece of history leave the place it used to call home. When he was visiting Washington, D.C. with his wife, he said it was very hard to see the Discovery in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
“It’s very hard for many to accept that they aren’t flying anymore,” he said.
Kelsey Meany wrote this story online.