Astronomy and astrophotography under California stars

Catching Endeavour Fly Over JPL

September 21, 2012: NASA's space orbiter Endeavour took to the skies one last time before its permanent retirement and display at the California Science Center. I made my way out to the vicinity of JPL, to the Devil's Gate Dam to be exact, to witness its flyover of one of many southern California landmarks. This location is just south of the JPL complex, is easily accessible, and has a good view of the JPL buildings. I gave up my original destination, the Griffith Park Observatory, after hearing on the news that morning about the traffic and parking nightmare that awaited.

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  • The crowd, including a horse, gather for the flyover of Space Shuttle Endeavour. Click for a larger image.
    Horse & rider make their way through the gathering crowd
  • People continue to arrive as flyover time approaches. Click for a larger image.
    Crowd continues to grow
  • Endeavour and its Boeing 747 break from behind the trees. Click for a larger image.
    First appearance above JPL

  • Flying proud directly over JPL. Click for a larger image.
    Directly over JPL
  • Heading south toward other destinations. Click for a larger image.
    Heading south to other destinations
  • A composite image of Endeavour over JPL. Click for a larger image.
    Composite (not to scale)

Commentary: The sight of the Orbiter attached to a Boeing 747 flying low over the LA Basin was awesome enough by itself. But the real impact of this flyover is three-fold: (1) It gave an unprecedented amount of people the opportunity to see a national icon and treasure in unusual and unique settings, (2) among that large number of people were inner-city children who have probably never seen an Orbiter in flight and never would have were it not for this flyover, and (3) the image of a large airliner flying low over populated areas brought excitement, cheers, and joy – rather than discomfort and fear. It was truly an amazing sight and experience.

Telephoto shots taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF 200mm f/2.8L II lens, and Canon 2x Extender II. Wider shots taken with a Canon EOS 60Da and EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens.

The composite image consists of two separate photos: (1) A wide background photo of JPL with the 60Da at 35mm and (2) a separate image of Endeavour and the 747 taken with the 5D Mark II at 400mm. In the 2nd photo, I selected Endeavour and the 747 and copied and pasted them into the first photo. I then scaled down the Endeavour/747 image to make the finished image appear more natural and believable. At actual scale, Endeavour and the 747 appear about 1/3rd as large as shown in the composite image.