Fort Bliss, Texas – The space shuttle Endeavour, the fifth and final space-worthy NASA shuttle to be built, stopped to refuel at the Departure/Arrival Airfield Control Group at Biggs Army Airfield, Sept. 20.
The Endeavour is making its way from the Kennedy Space Center, located in Cape Canaveral, Fla., to its permanent retirement home at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
The space shuttle is transported across country attached to a shuttle carrier aircraft, which is an extensively modified Boeing 747-100 airliner, said Bill Rieke, the pilot of the 747.
“I have been transporting shuttles across country for the last 25 years,” said Henry Taylor, the flight engineer. “It is an honor to do this, and to let the folks around the country see the space shuttle.”
Taylor, a former U.S. Air Force pilot, hopes that seeing the shuttle could inspire children to have an interest in math and science and possibly join NASA someday. Two such young fans might have been inspired that day.
Reyna Paola, 9, and her sister Andrea, 7, were lucky enough to get an up-close view of the space shuttle. They were brought to see the shuttle by their father, Ivan Armendariz, because he thought it would be a historical thing to see.
“I didn’t think I would be able to get this close,” said Reyna. “This is really cool.”
After seeing the space shuttle up-close, and speaking with Rieke, Reyna said she now has an interest in flying when she grows up.
As fans young and old lined outside the DAACG to catch a glimpse of the space shuttle, it turned out to be huge surprise for some other lucky individuals. Moments before the shuttle touched down, a flight with soldiers returning from Afghanistan landed.
Members of the 1186th Military Police Company, Oregon National Guard, and the 223rd Engineer Battalion, Mississippi National Guard, were not only delighted to be returning home, but were excited to disembark the plane and see the space shuttle greet their safe return.
“This is exciting to see,” said Staff Sgt. Roger Taylor, a mechanic with the 223rd. “This is the first time I have ever seen the space shuttle. This will definitely be an interesting story to tell my kids. It’s not very often something like this happens.”
Staff Sgt.Taylor wasn’t the only one excited.
Rieke, a former U.S. Navy pilot, and one of four pilots who fly the space shuttle across country, was ecstatic to have the opportunity to welcome home some of the country’s bravest, he said.
“This is awesome to pull up and to see these guys returning from Afghanistan,” said Rieke. “We are supposed to be the ‘A’ game wherever we go, but we are more than happy to take a backseat. These guys are our country’s heroes.”
The Endeavour was authorized by Congress in August 1987 to be the replacement for the space shuttle Challenger. It was named after the British HMS Endeavour, the ship which took Capt. James Cook on his first voyage of discovery from 1768-1771. Then President George H. W. Bush held a national naming competition involving elementary and secondary schools. They were asked to select a name based upon an exploratory or research sea vessel. In May 1989, Bush announced the winning name.
The Endeavour had flown 25 times, with its final flight coming in May 2011, carrying supplies to the International Space Station. Throughout its career, it has spent 299 days in space, orbiting the Earth nearly 4,700 times and logging close to 123 million miles, according to NASA.