Endeavour at Dryden/Edwards

500 feet from the centerline of the runway at Edwards Air Force Base. That’s where I was for a landing and a takeoff.

Endeavour landing series, Edwards AFB

Endeavour lands at Edwards AFB September 20. I was 500 feet from runway center line. (click to embiggen)

Endeavour takes off for her final flight

Endeavour takes off the Edwards Air Force Base runway for her final flight. Click to embiggen

The event: Penultimate stop of Endeavour at Dryden Edwards Thursday before the last California-wide trip and the last flight of any Space Shuttle before the final final final landing at LAX on Friday.

Endeavour (OV105 — Orbital Vehicle 105) wasn’t flying under her own power, she was affixed on top of a modified 747, also known as the SCA (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft). I was part of a select group of people at a “NASA Social” aka NASA Social Media event. Some 2000 of us applied to take part, and 40 were randomly selected to take part.

I am back and culling through my photos to post here. In the meantime, check out my Twitter Media stream. (keep clicking right).

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Later… (September 27) a huge foto essay
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In which I write an account of what it was like to attend the NASA Social at Dryden Flight Research Center on the grounds of Edwards Air Force Base.

L to R: Susan Kitchens, Steffie Hardy, Kaci Pilcher Heins, Cindy Chin, Keira Reilly

(Click to embiggen any of the images in this post)

How was I lucky enough to attend this marvelous event? It was a combination of my initiative and randomness.

I’ve been following word of NASA Tweetups — now called NASA Social on the Twitter. (I attended the first one evar, at JPL. From there it spread to NASA HQ and all the other NASA centers). I saw word that there was an upcoming NASA Social event at Dryden Edwards, a 2 day event scheduled for Wednesday Sept 19 and the morning of Thursday Sept 20. The application process is straightforward: They open registration during a limited time window of a few days. Requirements: have a social media account presence on Twitter (check!) or Facebook or Google+, or even one of those old skool things called blogs. Oh, and pay your own way there, buy your own meals. Edwards is close to where I am, so the pay-your-own-way terms weren’t onerous, so let’s go!

NASA got some 2000 registrations. They culled those to make sure each one was legit (checked profiles for recent activity), was checked for degree of profanity (F*ck Yeah! I guess they want to keep their NASA Socials from being from being filled with expletive deleteds.) Then, once they’d done their initial cull, they put them all in a kitty and randomly drew out 40 people. (I got these “howdja make the arrangements?” deets from John Yembrick, the man behind the @NASA twitter account and also the NASA Social (@NASASocial) honcho.) Why does NASA do it? It spread from an event at JPL to NASA-wide because fewer press members were attending and covering shuttle launches, so they invited social media to take advantage of our gotta communicate, gotta tweet! habits. After launches, it was NASA Social for any significant NASA milestone event. Like Endeavour travelling west to its final home.

Hooray: I was chosen!

Endeavour+SCA on Final Approach

Endeavour+SCA on Final Approach

The full post, with tons and tons of photos, is below the fold…

You did know that this landing was delayed a day, didn’t you? It was originally scheduled to arrive Wednesday, September 19th. Heck, it was originally scheduled to depart Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Monday.

But. You know, when it comes to anything shuttle related and KSC, weather always gets in the way. (The launch I attended, 10 years ago, was scrubbed due to weather. Happily I stayed in the area to contribute to Disney’s bottom line, and so was able to attend the launch five days later (and blog it! Such tiny fotos! That’s how we rolled in the dialup era, baybee).

So: Flying the Shuttle West. The plan originally called for two nights in Texas. Now one night. Even so, the SCA — Shuttle Carrier Aircraft — didn’t take off from KSC until Wednesday, staying the night at Johnson Space Center Wednesday, and making its way to us Thursday.

Endeavour Landing with rear wheel smoke

Endeavour and SCA landing with rear wheel smoke

From the NASA Social logistics standpoint the plan was same days — Wednesday and (now all day) Thursday, with an optional stay-over Friday to see Endeavour take off. We spent Wednesday learning all about NASA Dryden, the history of jet flight (my grandpa was out here in the early 40s while working at General Electric; GE’s jet engines and turbine generators share the same tech history. Grandpa was all over jet engine development in those early days.) and rocket flight (once you break the sound barrier —go supersonic— you must unlearn everything you learned about flight and start from scratch, grasshopper. Talk about beginner’s mind), and taking tours of the place and seeing where they manufacture and test things that they’re gonna fly. Oh, and flying an F-18 in a flight simulator.

But come on, you know we were really there for Endeavour. Which is why this blog post covers Thursday (landing day) and Friday (take off day).

Endeavour and SCA landing all but nosewheel is down

Endeavour and SCA landing all but nosewheel is down

Just before we went out to the runway, we met Jeffrey Rudolph, the President and CEO of the California Science Center, where Endeavour will go to live and be on display. Here he is (in blue shirt) with the red-shirted Kevin Rohrer, Director of Public Affairs for NASA Dryden.

California Science Center Pres-CEO Jeffry Rudolph and NASA Dryden PAO Kevin Rohrer

California Science Center Pres-CEO Jeffry Rudolph (blue shirt) and NASA Dryden PAO Kevin Rohrer (red shirt) just before we went out to runway to watch Endeavour arrive

We got on a bus to ride out to the runway. The schedule allowed 30 minutes for the bus ride. 30 minutes? Srsly? People, Edwards Air Force base is big. Spread out. (and don’t get me started on the security and the dog sniffing and the things you do to comply to authority.) 30 minute bus ride. Here, as best as I can recall and figure out using Google Maps, is our route. I never looked out the other side of the bus at the other southerly runway. I just looked at the planes we drove by.

Dryden at Edwards Air Force Base map with Bus Route

Why a bus ride to runway takes 30 minutes: This place is big. Start at NASA Dryden, drive clear to the other side of the big runway, and then get to within 500 feet of runway right at touchdown spot.

Fortunately, once we arrived at the runway, there were a few other aircraft that landed and took off, so we all got some practice shots in. Otherwise, the photos you saw above would’ve looked worse. Lots worse.

The shuttle did a flyover the area before it landed, too. And, of course, it was accompanied by the NASA chase aircraft, which landed after the SCA+Endeavour did.

Landing of the NASA Chase Plane

Landing of the NASA Chase Plane

We rode the bus back and went back in our conference room hangout at Dryden (where there was lotsa wireless. What’s a NASA Social event without tweeting and posting? And by the way, can I just say how much I like that little iPad photo connector kit? A 20+ minute bus ride is a time to transfer and review the photos of that landing of Endeavour and the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. That ZOMG! I can’t believe we were just five hundred feet away — 500! feet! away! landing.)

(Here’s a bus ride back snapshot. I did look up from my iPad, especially as the 747 SCA and Endeavour were visible taxiing to their parking spot.)

On the bus watching Endeavour atop SCA taxiing at Dryden Edwards

On the bus watching Endeavour atop SCA taxiing at Dryden Edwards

Conference Room: Tweet tweet tweet. Photo photo photo. The room was silent with concentration. After a bit, we were told we would go out by the hangar to see Endeavour. Bring cameras.

We walk out. to. gulp. This. The SCA and shuttle are here? right here?!?! So while we drove back and tweeted, they taxied to this spot and parked this big beautiful dual aircraft right out front!

OMG we are THAT close to the shuttle

Walking out from the buildings of Dryden, we discover that Endeavour is right there.

Let there be mugging for the camera!

Susan wearing Endeavour mission shirt stands in front of Endeavour

Hey look! My shirt also has Endeavour on it. That's from the launch 10 years ago.

Yep. The Endeavour shirt is from that KSC tour and launch 10 years ago.

More fun photos:

Susan Kisses the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft plane

In which I indulge in a bit of photo trickery to kiss the SCA on the nose

We watched as the other gathered people passed behind the yellow Caution tape and got to take a look at Endeavour and the 747 SCA up close. I wasn’t worried. I knew what was on our schedule for the day. I knew we’d get our chance.

Endeavour approached by Media and Guests

Endeavour approached by media and guests. But not us. Not yet.

We went to meet a person named Stephanie Stilson. She’s the Flow Director for Orbiter Transition and Retirement at NASA. Flow as in the workflow of processing the shuttle.

Stephanie Stilson, Shuttle Flow Director

Stephanie Stilson, Shuttle Flow Director, describes the work to get Endeavour ready for her trek to California

She flew here in the Pathfinder — the plane that flies a little ways ahead of the SCA and Endeavour. She described the processing at KSC to get Endeavour ready for her retirement home in California.

That shuttle doesn’t look different on outside, but inside, certain systems were removed — ones in the engine and other places.

Upshot: if there’s something with toxicity, it came out. Also, other things like the galley and the hygiene (i.e., potty) area were removed from Endeavour; they’ll be displayed separately at the California Science Center when Endeavour goes on display there.

Here’s a 2 min 17 second video where she described the process of what happens with Endeavour and the 747 SCA just after arrival at LAX:

Then we went back to our conference room, where we were visited by Frank Batteas, one of the two pilots who flew the 747 SCA.

Collage: Endeavour, SCA with flights and pilots, Frank Batteas

Frank Batteas, one of the two pilots, tells us what it was like to fly the 747 SCA. See his name on the pilot list? (click to embiggen)

The biggest challenge flying the 747 Shuttle Carrier Assembly is weather. Weather and heat. With a load like that, there’s not a lot of tolerance for weather or heat extremes. If the weather’s bad, wait till it’s better. Batteas is based in California; he’s also flown tests of the C-17 at Edwards back when that jet was in its development phase. (cool. My bro flies C-17s; nice to get this additional information). The other thing Batteas had to say was how much he appreciated the entire team of people who made this possible — those who prepared the shuttle, the aircraft, and so forth. As a pilot he’s in this heroic position (oo look! Pilot of the aircraft) but he paid generous lipservice to the huge number of people whose work made this flight possible. Oh yeah, and he thinks it’s fun, and he’s taken photos of the ground from his vantage point in the air aboard the 74 SCA. Wonder where those are?

Related: A pilot’s account of what it’s like to fly the shuttle. This account was flying Atlantis to Florida. But you get the idea.

More sightseeing! Next up: to see the CTV — The Crew Transport Vehicle. This is the vehicle that scooches up next to the shuttle immediately after landing. Here’s a NASA Dryden photo of the CRV in action (Original)

NASA's Crew Transport Vehicle Pulls Up to the Shuttle Discovery.

NASA's Crew Transport Vehicle Pulls Up to the Shuttle Discovery. (Aug 9, 2005) Credit: NASA / Photo Carla Thomas

We got to go into the CTV and see what’s inside.

Exterior of the Crew Transport Vehicle at NASA Dryden

Exterior of the Crew Transport Vehicle at NASA Dryden.

Those two extensions on the top? Those are to contain a screw assembly. The CRV elevates by rotating the screws (you can see it in the NASA photo above) so that the CRV is level with the Shuttle hatch. Astronauts leave the shuttle. What’s the first thing they do? Get poked and prodded by flight surgeons.

Medical Exam light inside the Crew Transport Vehicle

Medical Exam light inside the Crew Transport Vehicle

Once they pass their post-flight medical exam, they exit the CTV (the same door we went in) and walk around the shuttle and examine its underside for tile damage.

Other things we learned: No matter where the shuttle is scheduled to land, the Dryden CTV crew must ready everything for landing and report in to flight control (either Johnson Space Center in Houston or KSC in Florida). One requirement before the shuttle is directed to go out of orbit and into landing position is that all crews are ready.

Inside the CTV Crew Transport Vehicle, privacy screens for flight surgeons

Interior of CTV can be screened into cubicles for medical exams after the flight

40% of the shuttle flights landed at Edwards/Dryden — all of them in the beginning of the shuttle program, and, once the KSC landing runway was constructed, some shuttle missions that couldn’t land at KSC due to bad weather conditions there.

Want to know the top speed of the CTV? About 35 mph. Worst event at the wrong time? It was driving in a convoy out to the landing position and had a problem with the gas pedal. Pulled out of formation, quick adrenaline-rushed mechanical fix, and then it drove into position. We learned this from a discussion with one of the crew managers who has worked on the CTV.

Then, back through the flight hangar to get our time with the SCA and Endeavour.

But first: Look! A Plane!

Propeller aircraft and wing inside the Dryden hangar

Propeller aircraft and wing inside the Dryden hangar

That hangar is big!

SCA 747 and Endeavour as seen through Dryden hangar doorway

SCA 747 and Endeavour as seen through Dryden hangar doorway

By this time, some of the crowd-control-caution tape was gone from close to the hangar. For that matter, the crowds around the aircraft + spacecraft had thinned. We got more photos of Endeavour and the 747 SCA, and waited our turn for our next special (OMG so totally cool!) tour.

Detail: Endeavour's tail

Detail: Endeavour's tail and engine-hood

More views of the Nose of Endeavour. Doesn’t this next one make it look a little like a puppy dog?

Aww, who’s da big great shuttle? Who is that? who is that? Does the great big shuttle wag its tail? does it does it? No? No? Okay, maybe not…

Endeavour Nose Straight On

Endeavour Nose Straight On

Here’s a detail of the port side of Endeavour’s nose. It has the entry portal. Port, portal. Hmmm, I wonder if those two terms are related?

Endeavour Nose Port Side

Port side of the nose of Endeavour

Apparently, there’s a hatch in the plane’s cockpit. Whether it comes standard on all 747s or is there on the specialized SCA because, well, it carries a shuttle on top and you need to be able to perform visual inspections, I’ll never know. What I do know is that we saw a man wearing an olive jumpsuit poke his head out that hatch and take photos of the shuttle.

We yelled. Got him to wave at us. No idea who he is. But he’s having fun, and so are we.

A random pilot photographer waves to us from SCA sunroof

A random pilot photographer waves to us from SCA sunroof

Oh, notice that there’s a stairway going up to the door of the 747. And there are people there. And we are there, hanging out at a time when lots and lots of people are gone from the area. And we’re getting a tour with all kinds of coolness, talking to one of the pilots and the Shuttle Flow manager and all.

Ya think we’ll be able to go aboard? It says so on our itinerary. Things have shifted around today. But we’re patient.

Even when a fuel tanker pulls up. Nobody gets on the aircraft when they’re fueling it up.

Refueling the SCA 747

Refueling the SCA 747 (Can't board aircraft during refueling)

So we wait. (and take pictures).

Finally (yes! yes yes yes!!!) we lineup to board the 747.

In line to board the 747 SCA with Endeavour on top

In line to board the 747 SCA with Endeavour on top

At the top of the stairway, just before entering the SCA 747, I shot several photos of the shuttle and wing. This is a composited panoramic view.

SCA doorway pano looking up at Endeavour and port wing of plane

SCA doorway pano looking up at Endeavour and port wing of plane

Inside, the 747 is divided into two sections: The foreward, nose section has a few seats for passengers along for the ride in the SCA. There’s a spiral staircase that goes up to the cockpit. Since the plane had been powered on to do whatever it does during refueling, they didn’t permit us to go to the cockpit (but I saw from twitter that people boarding the plane in Houston were able to sit in the cockpit).

SCA 747 forward cabin, guide, and model of SCA with shuttle atop

SCA 747 forward cabin, guide, and model of SCA with shuttle atop

Here’s another view of the forward, passenger section of the aircraft. You can see the model of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft with a shuttle on top on the left side of this image:

Shuttle Carrier Aircraft nose passenger section. SCA model visible to left

Shuttle Carrier Aircraft nose passenger section. SCA model visible to left

Indulge me here. I was so thrilled to be here, I had to take one of those “I was here” photos. Well, heck. This post is lousy with them. There’s more to come.

Susan posing against the SCA 747 Nose Bulkhead

I against the SCA 747 Nose Bulkhead. They made a pretty picture on the bulkhead carpeting

We peeked behind the blue divider that separated this furnished nose part of the plane from the rear. Then one of our crew asked if we could go back there. Yes. “Hey, we can go back here! C’mon!”

What does a nearly empty fuselage of a 747 airplane look like? Like this: Green. Empty. Mostly. Save all your weight for what’s on top of this jet, not for what’s inside it.

Interior of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft fuselage

Interior of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft fuselage looking toward the tail

Displays on the side. Check this one out. Buzz Lightyear was here:

Display inside the SCA Jet with posters of aircraft and Buzz Lightyear

Display inside the SCA Jet with posters of aircraft and Buzz Lightyear (click to embiggen)

We wandered all around the plane. This is a view looking toward the nose of the plane from the tail area. And, because I had to, I point up toward the obvious— what is above this location where I’m standing. Endeavour.

Susan points to what is above this fuselage. A shuttle! whoa!

Hey! Look what is above this SCA 747 jet! A shuttle! Endeavour!

As we were leaving, the news media entered. I saw a bit of KTLA 5 reporter and cameraman inspecting the plane.

And then… outside again, where we just. could. not. leave. We just could not stop taking pictures of those amazing mated air-and-space-craft.

Besides, the westering sun shone amber, and the shadows grew long.

Crowds? Gone. Crowd control barriers? Gone.

Shuttle fun in the westering sun

Shuttle fun in the westering sun: Steffie Hardy and Kaci Pilcher Heins pose in front of Endeavour

Cool! I said. And snapped. Then, “Can I join you?” The result of that Cool Can I Join You is the foto far, far above. That was taken by someone using Cindy Chin’s iPhone camera.

Then, after that, how about some Shuttle Yoga? Tree pose. I struck a classic tree pose, and Steffie Hardy did her best yoga-novice take at what a tree looks like:

Shuttle Yoga: Tree pose. Susan Kitchens and Steffie Hardy

Shuttle Yoga: Tree pose. Susan Kitchens and Steffie Hardy

How about another Shuttle Yoga pose? This one is Warrior 2 facing the setting sun.

Shuttle Yoga: Warrior 2 Pose. Shuttle Yoga: Susan Kitchens and Steffie Hardy

Shuttle Yoga: Warrior 2 Pose. Shuttle Yoga: Susan Kitchens and Steffie Hardy

It was hard to leave. The light, the long shadows, the sheer exuberance and I can’t stop smiling this day is so full of WIN, but we had to go (you can’t drive on — or off– Edwards Air Force base willy nilly. Must be escorted by official NASA personnel).

One last look at Endeavour before tomorrow, when she begins her last flight. Her last flight, and the last flight of NASA’s space shuttle program.

The last view of the Shuttle atop the SCA on the 20th of September

The last view of the Shuttle atop the SCA on the 20th of September

The morning takeoff will continue in another post.

6 responses to “Endeavour at Dryden/Edwards”

  1. Ann Erdman

    What a wonderful vantage point you had! The images are spectacular.

  2. Susan A. Kitchens

    I’m still getting it together; there’s more to come! Later And now they are up!!!!!!

  3. Jane Rollins

    What a unique adventure, thanks to initiative and pure luck! Loved the shots of you against the bulkhead and the 5 gals leaning on their chins lying on the tarmac! Oh, and of the shuttle…

  4. LanceThruster

    Thank you so much for these Susan, and thanks for mentioning the site over at Balloon-Juice or I may never have gotten the chance to see them. Great shots all, and the playful tone throughout made them all the more enjoyable. It looks like you had a complete blast, and were fully able to share that with everyone through your photos.

    I’ll keep coming back!

    Sincere best regards,


  5. LanceThruster

    Just thought I’d also return the favor by providing some shots (not mine) from my neck of the woods where I saw it do a victory lap around downtown LA. I got to watch this with coworkers from a parking garage rooftop nearby.

    go here – http://dailytrojan.com/2012/09/24/in-photos-endeavour-makes-last-flight/

  6. Lori A. Webster

    What a fabulous telling of all the excitement- excellent photos, too!