US shuttle Endeavour begins final journey to California

US Space shuttle Endeavour piggy-backs a ride from NASAs Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

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US space shuttle Endeavour has embarked on its final journey, piggy-backing on a Boeing 747 jet, bound for display at the California Science Center.

Crowds gathered to see the shuttle leave Florida's Kennedy Space Center at sunrise on Wednesday. It touched down hours later in Houston, Texas.

The three-day journey to Los Angeles was delayed for two days by rain.

It is the youngest space ship to be retired from a fleet that includes Atlantis and Discovery.

Endeavour replaced the shuttle Challenger, which was destroyed in an accident in 1986 that killed seven astronauts.

In service since 1992, it has made 25 trips, logged 123 million miles in space and circled the globe almost 4,700 times.

Hundreds of trees felled

Atlantis is to remain on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, while Discovery was moved earlier in the year to a Smithsonian museum near Washington DC.

The shuttle prototype, Enterprise, has been put on display in New York City.

Start Quote

There's sadness to see it go, but the space shuttle programme had to end for us to move on to the next thing”

End Quote Greg Chamitoff Astronaut

On Wednesday, the shuttle travelled to Houston, where Mission Control and the astronauts are based.

Endeavour is scheduled to land at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, before being paraded through the streets of Los Angeles in mid-October as it makes its way to the city's California Science Center.

Los Angeles has ordered 400 trees to be cut down and hundreds of utility poles, street lights and traffic lights are to be temporarily removed to let the space shuttle pass through neighbourhood streets.

There are plans for 1,000 new trees to be planted to replace those felled.

It will be on display from 30 October.

Last year, Nasa retired the three ships in its fleet after finishing the US portion of the $100bn (£61.6bn) International Space Station, a permanently staffed research facility that is owned by 15 countries and flies about 250 miles (402km) above earth.

"There's sadness to see it go, but the space shuttle programme had to end for us to move on to the next thing," astronaut Greg Chamitoff told Reuters.

The closure of the programme was ordered by the White House, so the space agency could devote more resources to destinations beyond low-earth orbit, such as asteroids and Mars.

Nasa is not expected to launch any crewed missions before 2021.

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