For many in Mountain View, work stopped as people gathered on rooftops and along the sides of overpasses, in crowds at Shoreline Park and 20,000-strong at Moffett Field. The once-in-a-lifetime sight of the shuttle's low-altitude fly-over brought the community together. For a few brief minutes, the cares of everyday life fell away as all eyes lifted to the heavens to marvel at the shuttle riding piggyback on a modified Boeing 747.
The shuttle, on its way to its new home in Los Angeles where it will be displayed at the California Science Museum, signaled the end of an era, as NASA retires its aging fleet of space shuttles. The awe-inspiring sight was a reminder of what we can do when we pull together as a nation, and doubtlessly inspired new generations of astronauts, scientists and explorers to imagine what the future of space exploration holds.
This dignified salute to Endeavour, which was built as a replacement for the doomed space shuttle Challenger, was a fitting farewell for a craft which, according to NASA, completed 25 missions, spent 299 days in orbit, and circled Earth 4,671 times.
While the excited crowd watched, the shuttle flew over NASA Ames near the wind tunnel complex where 90 percent of its aerodynamic research went on, the vertical flight simulator where its astronauts trained and the laboratories where its heat-resistant tiles were invented.
But the sight of Endeavour soaring over the top of Mountain View's iconic Hangar One would have been even more inspiring if the massive crowd of onlookers could take heart that, somewhere on the horizon, the towering skeleton would get its replacement siding and a new role for a new era. Hangar One could be looking forward to a future as an air and space museum, or as a working hangar leased to house the Google executives' fleet.
Instead, Endeavour's glorious send-off only heightened the undignified relegation of Hangar One to history's scrap-heap, as NASA's top officials have signaled they'd rather get rid of it rather than restore and reuse it.
It's important to keep sight of the future, working toward the new technologies that will open up unexplored realms of the solar system and beyond. But it's also important not to forget one's roots, the foundation that future success is built upon. For decades, Hangar One has been a symbol of the key role that Moffett Field and NASA Ames has played in our region.
While it's gotten harder to remain hopeful about Hangar One's future, there is a strong argument for continuing efforts to preserve this historic landmark for future generations. It's one we hope that NASA officials will finally be able to hear.