Las Cruces Space Shuttle Flyover September 19

Sep 6, 2012

 The Space Shuttle Endeavour will
grace the skies of southern New Mexico one last time on Wednesday, September
19, 2012 as she piggybacks aboard a Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft on
her way to her final home at the California Science Center in Los Angeles,
CA. Throughout the Space Shuttle Program, employees of the NASA White Sands
Test Facility (WSTF) outside of Las Cruces have worked to ensure the safety
of the shuttles and their crews. In addition to WSTF, the White Sands
Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base have stood by to support every
mission with a contingency landing facility at the White Sands Space Harbor.
The Space Harbor was used once for a space shuttle landing for the Orbiter
Columbia following STS-3, but was continuously used for crew training until
the retirement of the program in 2011. A fortuitous location along the
flight path to California means these employees that have worked so hard for
so many years, as well as their friends and families will, weather
permitting, have one last chance to see Endeavour on her final journey.

The current schedule has Endeavour leaving Kennedy Space Center in Florida
aboard the modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (NASA 905) on
September 17. After flyovers of other NASA facilities that have supported
the program and nearby cities, the piggybacked aircrafts will land in
Houston, TX, the home of NASA's Mission Control at Ellington Field for a
full-day stop. Weather permitting, Endeavour will leave Houston early on
September 19, landing at Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso, TX to refuel, and
then performing a low pass flyover of the White Sands Missile Range main
post area. Crossing over the San Andres Mountains, Endeavour will fly over
WSTF, and then fly low over Las Cruces before turning west and overnighting
at Edwards Air Force Base before the final leg to Los Angeles International
Airport. The estimated time of the flyover is between 11:00 a.m. and 12:30
p.m. local time. Obviously, the weather could play a major spoiler role. Bad
weather along the flight path could postpone the schedule, or in a worst
case, force a more northerly route resulting in cancellation of the planned
flyover for WSMR, WSTF, and Las Cruces.

The newest space shuttle in the fleet, Endeavour was built as a replacement
to the Space Shuttle Challenger and first flew in 1992. Endeavour flew into
space 25 times, completing 4671 orbits of the Earth, and traveling over 122
million miles. The second to last flight of the Space Shuttle Program,
STS-134, was Endeavour's last flight to the International Space Station,
launching on May 16, 2011 and landing on June 1, 2011.

A total of five operational space shuttles were produced during the Space
Shuttle Program, which spanned from 1981 to 2011. The three remaining
shuttles, plus Enterprise, a prototype shuttle designed to test space
shuttle behavior in atmospheric flight, were retired in April 2011 and after
decommissioning, will be displayed permanently at locations across the
country. Enterprise, the first orbiter built, was moved from the
Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in
Virginia to the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum in New York. Shuttle
Discovery is now located at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. Shuttle
Endeavour will take her place in Los Angeles's California Science Center and
finally, Shuttle Atlantis will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center
Visitor's Complex in Florida.

WSTF employees have been treated to a few other space shuttle flyovers. On
March 30, 1982, Space Shuttle Columbia landed at the White Sands Space
Harbor (then known as Northrup Strip) at the conclusion of STS-3. In
addition, two other ferry flights from landings at Edwards Air Force Base
back to the Kennedy Space Center provided opportunities to fly over WSTF. In
June 1994, Endeavour flew over WSTF following a California landing at the
end of STS-59. Most recently, on June 1, 2009 after completing mission
STS-125 with a landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California, Space
Shuttle Atlantis flew low over WSTF before passing in front of the Organ
Mountains on her way to an overnight stop at Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso
(pictured below).

Despite mixed emotions associated with the Space Shuttle Program ending,
employees of WSTF and WSMR are hoping for clear weather so they have the
opportunity to see Endeavour take to the skies one final time, and hopefully
our friends and families in Las Cruces will be able to share the view.

The flight plan has Endeavour flying north from Biggs Army Airfield, over
the WSMR main post, then east to gain altitude before turning west and
flying over San Augustin Pass. Once over the pass, Endeavour will turn
north, overflying the NASA facilities, make a 180 degree turn and fly over
the NASA facilities a second time, then turn west and follow US 70 over Las
Cruces before gaining altitude again and heading west toward California.