Witnessing a five-story, 83-plus ton spacecraft flying piggyback on a Boeing 747 is truly a majestic and oddly moving sight, a tribute not so much as to advances in aviation and engineering, but more to our human ingenuity. I think of how we marvel at ancient feats of engineering, those pyramids, temples, terraces, and statues built ever-so precisely by long-ago people, perfectly crafted from rough, massive boulders, and how we wonder at the level of sophistication and technology they could have possibly possessed to create such phenomena. Do you think, in a few thousand years, Earth’s inhabitants will look back at photos like this and scratch their heads, curious as to how their otherwise unsophisticated ancestors could have possibly sculpted something a creature like this out of metal and keep it aloft?
I wasn’t expecting to have this reaction. Space exploration doesn’t speak to me like it does to Kid One, a dedicated space nut and hobbyist astrophysicist. He mentioned to me that the shuttle Endeavor had a scheduled flyover at the Monterey Bay Aquarium after looping through the Bay Area, and I just thought – hmm. Then I realized our town is right in the middle, as the crow flies, of those two locations. A space shuttle flying over Seacliff Beach?? The photo op of a lifetime. So Koah and I left the house early armed with poop bags (for the dog) and telephoto lens (for me), strolled over to the field above the beach, pup staring down at gopher holes and me staring down at the #spottheshuttle Twitter feed on my iPhone, tracking Endeavor sightings through the Central Valley and around Sacramento.
Other people started to show up about the time #spottheshuttle began tweeting East Bay sightings, lining the cliff wherever they could park or walk, many, like me, consulting their iPhones. An elderly dog-walker stopped to ask if I knew what everyone was looking for, surprised and interested to catch a glimpse if he could. Some of us [actually!] began talking to each other. I had a wonderful conversation with a neighbor who told me about her father, aviation pioneer Tony LeVier, and the stories she shared about meeting Charles Lindbergh and flying over the Mojave Desert at supersonic speeds were just wonderful. Much better than anything I was finding on Twitter! It was serendipitous conversation on Shuttle Day.
We suddenly heard loud cheers and hoots came from the beach. Standing 200 feet above at the edge of the cliff, my first chance at a glimpse of the Endeavor was blocked by an overgrown patch of tangled poison oak and blackberry vines. It only took a second to come into view from the west, out over the sea near Pleasure Point.
It followed the curve of the Monterey Bay and reached my spot on the cliff. I waited two hours and finally got that photo of the Endeavor and the Cement Ship together.
Then it soared away toward Monterey, and the moment was over. We all stared after it for a moment and moved on with our day. It wasn’t really what I’d expected; it flew higher and quieter than I had anti pated and arrived from a different direction than I’d thought. And that it would be such a rousing sight to behold. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Now are you wondering what is it’s like to shuttle the shuttle? Here’s a piece by Alicia Chang that helps answer that question.