Thousands of people began gathering early Friday morning to watch an unusual sight and a piece of history whizzing by their eyes.
They all hoped to catch a glimpse of a retired space shuttle - the Endeavour - flying piggy-back style on top of a 747 airplane - in a circuitous route from Southern California back to Los Angeles. Along the way, there was an exciting flyby in Sacramento at about 9:45 a.m., and then in Bay Area about a half hour later. The double-aircraft landed safely at the Los Angeles International Airport by the United terminal just shy of 1 p.m. with a crowd of fans shouting "USA, USA."
For most of the morning though, Bay Area crowds gathered at places including Moffett Field in Mountain View, the beach at Crissy Field in San Francisco and in the East Bay, the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland and the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley. They cheered and whooped as the aircraft flew over their heads.
Most were out to see a piece of history. Endeavour is the fifth and last flight-worthy NASA space shuttle built, first taking flight more than 20 years ago. Its last official flight was last year: NASA astronaut Col. Mike Fincke was on that last mission and was at LAX when the shuttle landed.
"It's beautiful," he said.
In the Bay Area, self-described Endeavour-geeks were out in force, too. One middle-aged man came to Moffett Field because he remembers when NASA Ames employees came to his school in San Jose and talked to the class about heat tiles. Those tiles, otherwise known as the Thermal Protection System, made up the barrier that protected the shuttle from searing heats of 3,000 degrees Farenheit upon reentering the atmosphere.
Former NASA astronaut Steve Robinson was at Moffett Field, too. He also remembered the era of the heat tiles and told NBC Bay Area that flying a shuttle is an anxiety-ridden rush.
"It's hard to describe what an incredible ride it is," Robinson said. "It's kind of a combination of the most exciting physical ride and rush you've ever been on, combined with the hardest and most difficult, most pressured work you've ever done all at the same time."
Jeff Parr said he was on the Mountain View tarmac because his parents worked at Lockheed Martin and space travel "was always the conversation at the dinner table." He said he had always wanted to see an actual space shuttle launch, but seeing a retiring shuttle head to a museum was a close second. Parr was poised to capture the event himself - he was set up with heavy duty camera gear and strong binoculars.
The shuttle has been jet setting across the country this week as it made its way from Florida to its final home in California - a Los Angeles museum. On Friday, the shuttle took off from Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California about 8:15 a.m.
On Thursday, the shuttle did several low-level flyovers along the way to California, including at the Tucson, Ariz., home of the last person to command an Endeavour mission: retired astronaut Mark Kelly, and his wife, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
The shuttle will stay at LAX until Oct. 12, when it's slated to begin its two-day overland journey to its new home at the California Science Center, southwest of downtown LA. Endeavour will go on display Oct. 30 in the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion.
At least for Robinson, the former astronaut who came out to Moffett Field, retiring a shuttle isn't the worst thing in the world.
"Many people at Ames spent their entire careers working on this shuttle," he said. "And so we would like to keep it flying forever. But I'll tell you what. It'll be great that it'll be in a museum fully intact having done its job. Everybody, from now on, especially kids, can see it."
NBC 4 Los Angeles contributed to this report.