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Space shuttle Endeavour lands in California, nears retirement home

Space Shuttle Endeavour on her final flight

(CNN) — The space shuttle Endeavour landed Thursday at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the latest stage in its transcontinental voyage to retirement.

The orbiter’s final destination is the California Science Center in Los Angeles, but it still has some sightseeing to do before it goes on display.

On Friday, Endeavour, atop a modified jumbo jet, will do several flyovers in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles — weather permitting.

Upon arrival at Los Angeles International Airport, the orbiter will be removed from its perch aboard the Boeing 747 it has piggy-backed for three days.

NASA said the shuttle will be moved over roads on October 12-13 to its final spot at the science museum.

Endeavour, along with Discovery, Enterprise and Atlantis, became a museum piece after NASA ended its 30-year shuttle program in July 2011.

Two other shuttles — Challenger and Columbia — were destroyed in accidents that killed all aboard. Challenger exploded shortly after launch in 1986, and Columbia broke apart upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere in 2003.

Endeavour’s three-day piggyback flight was divided into three legs that could be described as scenic routes to showcase the shuttle to the public.

“Social media users are encouraged to share their Endeavour sightings using the hashtags #spottheshuttle and #OV105, Endeavour’s orbiter vehicle designation,” NASA said.

Wednesday’s leg took Endeavour to Houston, with flyovers along Florida’s Space Coast, Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

As Endeavour bid farewell to Kennedy Space Center, it elicited strong emotions from people, such as CNN iReporter Randy Lathrop of Cocoa, Florida, who have lived with the shuttle program nearby for decades.

“It’s the last time that she’ll ever be at her home base again. It strikes a chord of nostalgia in you because she’s done so many flights from the space center. This is her home,” he said.

Named for the first ship commanded by British explorer James Cook, Endeavour rolled off the assembly plant in Palmdale, California, in 1991 at a cost of $1.7 billion. It was the baby of the shuttle fleet, built as a replacement for Challenger.

Over the next 20 years, Endeavour flew some of the most high-profile shuttle missions, covering 25 flights and nearly 123 million miles. It flew a Spacelab mission and numerous International Space Station assembly missions and rendezvoused with Russia’s Mir Space Station.

CNN’s Ben Brumfield and Ric Ward contributed to this report.

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