HOUSTON – Waving American flags and space shuttle toys, hundreds of people lined the streets and crowded the airport Wednesday as they watched space shuttle Endeavour touch down in Houston on its way to be permanently displayed in California.
But for many, the experience was bittersweet, tinged with an aftertaste of having been cheated of something they believe should rightfully have been theirs.
“I think that it’s the worst thing that they can do, rotten all the way,” said 84-year-old Mary Weiss, clinging to her walker just before Endeavour, riding piggyback on a jumbo jet, landed after flying low over Gulf Coast towns, New Orleans and then downtown Houston and its airports.
Space City, partly made famous by Tom Hanks when he uttered the line “Houston, we have a problem” in the movie “Apollo 13,” has long tied its fortune to a mix of oil and NASA. The Johnson Space Center and an adjacent museum hug Galveston Bay.
Yet Houston’s bid for a shuttle was rejected after the White House retired the fleet last summer to spend more time and money on reaching destinations such as asteroids and Mars.
Instead, Houston got a replica that used to be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center.
“I think it’s a pretty rotten deal, basically,” said Scott Rush, 54, of Crystal Beach, Texas, wearing a T-shirt proudly proclaiming that he had witnessed Endeavour’s final launch. “The one we’re getting is a toy. An important toy, but a toy nonetheless.”
Back-to-back delays in the ferry flight resulted in one day being cut from the Houston visit.
But Wednesday dawned under bright sunshine and cooler-than-normal temperatures, drawing hundreds of excited people.
After landing, the Endeavour rolled slowly in front of the cheering crowd. It circled and preened like a model on the catwalk, giving awed spectators an opportunity to take pictures from a variety of angles.
“I want to go on it,” said 3-year-old Joshua Lee as he headed to the landing area with his mother and grandmother.
NASA still plays a large role in Houston, and astronaut Clayton Anderson, who lived on the international space station from June to November 2007, encouraged people to focus on a new era of space exploration.
“The shuttles are a wonderful legacy, a huge part of Houston, but now it’s time to look to the future,” Anderson said.
The shuttle is scheduled to arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday. In mid-October, Endeavour will be transported to the California Science Center.