Today Endeavour, atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) #NASA905, made a pit-stop at Ellington (EFD). A simple, but eloquent thank you for all of our hard work over the years. Flyovers at numerous Houston locations allowed her to say a small goodbye. I chose to watch the flyovers at JSC Rocket Park because I had seen ALL my flyovers at JSC. Of course, the benefit there was multiple passes including right over my head at less than 1500 feet!
But the moving part of this story (to me at least) was that I was here for her very first trip to Houston in 1991. On her way to KSC from Palmdale where she was born, I was given my second up-close view of a space shuttle orbiter. The first came soon after starting work at NASA. I travelled to KSC and was given the rare privilege of visiting Atlantis on the pad - even stuck my head inside her flight deck from the White Room! The Rotating Service Structure (RSS) was in place - so I had an up-close view of the cracked and repaired space "aged" tiles.
At that time, Endeavour was a far cry from her experienced sister. She was new and shiny - a virgin. I had a fellow Space Tweep snap a pic of me yesterday in front of the "space aged" Endeavour while I was holding my first photo taken in front of her from 1991.
My third up-close view was of Columbia and was in 1994. We were allowed to go inside the SCA and up through the hatch below the orbiter. It is there we saw the infamous "PLACE ORBITER HERE BLACK SIDE DOWN". I had no camera on me that day and never got that photo - one of my largest regrets of my career... I had hoped to get that chance again today! Because it would be the very last time... EVER. However, with so many public visitors (reported that 100,000 people flocked to Ellington Field to see her), that option did not arise. Which is okay - my name and twitter handle are on that very SCA and will make that last flight with her!
One last thought about my connection to Endeavour... With deep connections to Atlantis (first orbiter, most Mir flights, and been inside of her) and Discovery (um, dad's death and hence GodspeedDiscvry), Challenger (obvious), and Columbia (again, obvious - but also I helped find and pick up debris - I mean, I held pieces of her in my hand), I wasn't sure what Endeavour meant to me until this week.
She is the only existing orbiter I did not see make her final launch. Something told me not to make that drive to KSC... a rising creek and possible pending flood at Flint, and just this gut feeling - someone up there was telling me not to go. I fought it, but eventually said "Well, if there was one orbiter to miss, it would be this one." I ended up missing Dallas area tornadoes, all of the horriffic southeastern US outbreak of storms that I would have been driving right through - and of course, we ended up not launching on that attempt. Having said "If there was one..." and circumstances for being away from work for the next attempt, I let her launch without me.
So I find it fitting that this visit cemented what exactly my connection was with her. My Houston experience with Endeavour ended exactly where it started, at Ellington Field, book-ending Endeavour's 25 flight space history.