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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 | Last updated: 8:29am

Space shuttle Endeavour flies over UA on last flight



More than 100 UA faculty and staff lingered on the roof of the Steward Observatory on Thursday to witness the appearance of the space shuttle Endeavour flying over the UA Mall before it headed to its permanent home.

Endeavour made its way across the UA campus around 11:15 a.m. on its final journey before it goes on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

Mounted on top of a 747 aircraft, Endeavour soared from Florida to Los Angeles.

The shuttle flew over Tucson in honor of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, at his request. Kelly is a former astronaut who was the last to command Endeavour.

A crowd of people gathered on the Mall to observe the shuttle as it flew 1,500 feet above ground level.

On the roof of the observatory, astronomy professors and graduate students awaited its arrival with anticipation.

“This is very exciting,” said Yancy Shirley, an assistant professor of astronomy. “It’s a great honor that they have decided to fly over the UA and it gets people excited about space.”

As Endeavour appeared, there was a moment of silence. Several people gasped in shock as they pointed out the shuttle to their colleagues, followed by loud applause from the crowd.

“This is pretty cool to witness,” said Justin Sbiolker, a second-year graduate student in astronomy. “This is the only time where you will see the shuttle fly on the back of a plane and that doesn’t happen very often.”

For the astronomy department, Endeavour signified and acknowledged the accomplishments of the UA over the years, Sbiolker added.

“The number of places it was flying low is very few and it’s nice to know that Tucson is just as important to fly it over,” said Laird Close, an astronomy professor.

As excited as everyone was to see the retired shuttle, Close said, mounting it to an airplane was a strange way to transport the shuttle.

“It’s bittersweet in that it was an era where we used the shuttle to do fantastic things,” said Rodger Thompson, an astronomy professor. “But I’m glad that they are preserving this part of history.”


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