HOUSTON, Texas (Sept. 19, 2012) -- Army Reserve personnel were among thousands on hand here today to salute the final voyage of a retired spacecraft.
Soldiers and civilians from the 75th Training Command watched, took photos and captured video as the Space Shuttle Endeavor circled the area several times before landing at Ellington International Airport, twenty miles southeast of the city's downtown.
Staff Sgt. Chris Bleakney with the unit's Headquarters Company watched the arrival of the shuttle -- borne by a Boeing 747 -- from a parking lot on Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, the military installation co-located with the airport.
"To actually see it come in, it was really incredible."
The retired orbiter made its last space flight in May of 2011. It is being transported to Los Angeles where it will be displayed at a museum complex there, but is making a brief stop in Houston before continuing. A facility at Johnson Space Center, about ten miles from Ellington, has been used as NASA's Mission Control Center since 1965.
Bleakney, a Houston native, feels the connection. "I've always felt close to NASA with Johnson Space Center being here. I've always felt like NASA was a part of home."
Col. Jeff Ragland has called Houston home for nearly twenty-five years, and also works in the 75th's headquarters. He says that as the arrival time neared, troops from multiple services streamed out of the building. "Navy, Army, Marines, Coast Guard…everybody was out front, watching it."
Ragland, who visited with one of the 747's pilots, learned that the multiple circles over the Houston area were NASA's way of saying thank you to the community for its support of the space program through the years.
Several astronauts visited with troops stationed at the base, as well as with the crowds that came to see the orbiter while it was on display throughout the day.
Mike Foreman, a mission specialist on two shuttle flights and a former Captain in the Navy, was appreciative of the service members' presence. "I think it's great. We are like a big family here in Houston with the support we get from military units…it's great to see them come out."
The day's events sparked strong feelings in Ragland. "I felt very proud of the whole space program, very proud of our accomplishments as a nation."
The 75th Training Command prepares large military units for deployments and other missions by conducting live and virtual scenario-based training, while mentoring senior leaders on effective organizational decision-making. Commanded by a major general, it is the senior military headquarters in the Houston area.