LOS ANGELES (AP) - Space shuttle Endeavour landed safely at the Los Angeles International Airport Friday after a whirlwind aerial tour around California landmarks.
Strapped to the back of a 747 jumbo jet, the pair touched down around 1 p.m. after a nearly five-hour flyover. One of the crew members stuck an American flag out of the hatch of the jet.
The flyover took Endeavour over the state Capitol, Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood Sign and other icons en route to the landing at the Los Angeles International Airport, where the shuttle will be prepped for a slow-speed journey to its museum home next month.
At the Santa Monica Pier, spectators pointed their cameras skyward and some chanted, “USA! USA!” as Endeavour swooped along the coast.
“Even though it was a few seconds, it was a unique experience to witness history,” said Andrew Lerner, 23, of Santa Monica.
Thousands of spectators jammed rooftop buildings and streets in Sacramento, cheering as Endeavour made two loops around the state Capitol. A crowd of schoolchildren squealed in delight during the second flyover.
Matthew Montgomery took a break from his work as a legislative aide and brought his 2-year-old son, Tavion, to see Endeavour airborne.
“I was going to leave him in daycare but thought this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” said Montgomery, whose aunt was an engineer on the early Apollo missions.
Since Endeavour buzzed by some of the Golden State’s most iconic sights, law enforcement and transportation authorities warned motorists not to “gawk and drive.”
“We want people to take in this majestic show,” Los Angeles police Cmdr. Scott Kroeber said earlier this week. “But if you’re driving, please drive and don’t try to take in the show simultaneously.”
Extra officers will be on duty along the freeways near the airport to make sure traffic flows smoothly as the shuttle zooms overhead.
Endeavour returned to its birthplace Thursday after an emotional cross-country ferry flight that made a special flyover of Tucson, Ariz., to honor its last commander, Mark Kelly, and his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
NASA’s shuttle fleet, which retired last year after three decades of flight, was assembled in Palmdale near Edwards Air Force Base where Endeavour took off Friday morning for the aerial tour. The military outpost 100 miles north of Los Angeles served as the original shuttle landing strip and remained a backup site in case of stormy weather at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
“We’re so excited to be welcoming Endeavour home in grand style with these flyovers,” Jeffrey Rudolph, president of the California Science Center, said earlier this week.
The youngest shuttle, Endeavour replaced Challenger, which blew up during liftoff in 1986. NASA lost another shuttle, Columbia, in 2003 when it disintegrated during re-entry. Fourteen astronauts were killed.