"I remember it just like it was yesterday," says Endeavour Commander Mark Kelly. He captained the famed shuttle on its last voyage in space, Mission 25. On Friday, Endeavour will tackle "Mission 26" on its trek through the streets of LA to the California Science Center. Gordon Tokumatsu reports from Culver City for the NBC4 News at 9 p.m. on Oct. 11, 2012.
As the space shuttle Endeavour winds its way through Los Angeles on its way to be displayed at the California Science Center this weekend, Capt. Mark Kelly will be watching with a mixture of pride and sadness.
The astronaut recalled “streaming across the Pacific Ocean in this giant fireball” as he commanded Endeavour’s final mission last year.
It was the highlight of his career, Kelly said. The moment came as both he and the shuttle were preparing to retire.
“It’s a little sad to see the space shuttle go off to a museum,” Kelly said Thursday. “I’ve logged a lot of miles on that spaceship.”
Kelly urged Southern Californians to come see Endeavour as it winds its way through Los Angeles Friday morning and Saturday.
Viewing stations are planned for key locations along the route, and the Metro Expo Line can take people to a mass viewing area at Exposition Park on Saturday.
“I hope people get a chance to come out and see it moving through the streets,” Kelly said. “That’s going to be a pretty spectacular thing to see.”
For Kelly, it will be the culmination of a strange and terrific journey.
“Endeavour is a special space shuttle,” Kelly said, put together with what he described as “a bunch leftover parts from the beginning of the shuttle program” to replace Challenger, which exploded on the launch pad in 1986.
Kelly served on its first mission and then again on its last.
He recalled the final day, “screaming across the Pacific in this giant fireball, because of all the friction from the atmosphere and then descending from twenty-thousand feet.”
The national spotlight shone on Kelly in an entirely different way in January of 2011, when his wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was seriously injured in an assassination attempt.
The two of them became a media sensation as he stood by her side through the ordeal, then went on to pilot Endeavour’s final space flight, effectively drawing to a close America’s shuttle program.
Kelly spoke at a news conference organized by Time Warner Cable, which is helping to fund the shuttle's move and the exhibit at the Science Center.
The astronaut said he hopes seeing the spacecraft will inspire children to seek careers in science, technology, engineering or math.
“I’m looking forward to bringing my kids up there and maybe some grandkids,” Kelly said.