L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at the California Science Center in May… (Mark Boster, Los Angeles…)
WASHINGTON — As air-show flyovers go, this one would be huge: a NASA space shuttle riding piggyback atop a massive 747 airliner.
That sight already has wowed crowds this year in New York and Washington, D.C., and promoter Bryan Lilley figured that Florida residents — specifically, those at his air show — should get one last shot at seeing the shuttle before NASA completes its delivery of the retired orbiters to museums nationwide.
So Lilley gambled.
Rather than schedule the Cocoa Beach Air Show during its usual time slot in late October, he moved the event to mid-September in hopes that the timing would coincide with the transfer of shuttle Endeavour from Kennedy Space Center to a Los Angeles museum.
But it didn't — he missed by at least two days — and now Lilley is pulling every string he can to persuade NASA to delay Endeavour's departure so that the orbiter and its 747 can take a star turn at his two-day air show, which starts Sept. 22.
"People will come from all over the country to see something like this," said Lilley, president of the air show.
So far, Lilley has recruited the help of Florida's two U.S. senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, as well as U.S. Reps. Bill Posey and Sandy Adams. The four lawmakers asked NASA chief Charlie Bolden earlier this year to change the Endeavour departure date to accommodate the air show, as well as to honor the Kennedy Space Center.
"The event would not only provide a larger audience for the flight, it would give the dedicated space shuttle workforce a final chance to bid farewell alongside their Space Coast friends and family," the four Florida legislators wrote to Bolden.
So far, though, NASA has said no.
"In order to maintain delivery schedules and minimize cost, logistical complexity and liability, NASA does not plan to have the orbiter … take part in the air show, though the agency appreciates the invitation and interest," NASA wrote.
Endeavour is the last of four orbiters headed to a museum. Discovery is at a Smithsonian complex near Washington, D.C., and Enterprise is on the flight deck of the retired aircraft carrier Intrepid in New York. Atlantis is being prepared for a place at Kennedy Space Center's visitor center.
An early timeline indicated that Endeavour would leave Florida on Sept. 20 and arrive a few days later in California, although NASA said the schedule still is being finalized. A parade and other celebrations are planned for its arrival and eventual rollout through the streets of Los Angeles to the California Science Center.
Agency officials noted that the Space Coast still would get a dramatic flyover. When NASA flew Discovery from Florida to the D.C. area in April, the 747 pilots looped around the space center's beaches; NASA plans a repeat performance with Endeavour.
NASA just won't commit to the air show, whose ticket prices range from $19 to $149.