Space shuttle Endeavour's postponed journey from Florida's Space Coast to Southern California began early Wednesday when the future museum piece left Kennedy Space Center on the back of a modified Boeing 747.
Hundreds of spectators gathered early Wednesday at the space center to watch the final ferry flight of the shuttle, which will make a homecoming when it arrives Friday in Southern California and a stop near Houston. Astronauts and space center workers lined the Kennedy Space Center runway to wave farewell to shuttle -- its final destination is the California Science Center -- and flight crew when it departed on the back of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft at 4:22 a.m. PT
"I am feeling a tremendous amount of pride,'' said astronaut Kay Hire, who flew aboard Endeavour two years ago.
More spectators watched from beaches along Florida's Space Coast as the shuttle carrier soared above en route to flyovers of Cape Canaveral and Patrick Air Force Base. The carrier aircraft touched down at Ellington Field southeast of Houston at about 8:40 a.m.
It will depart Houston Thursday morning destined for Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The shuttle will overnight at Edwards before flyovers of San Francisco and Sacramento.
The carrier will head south toward LAX, making several flyovers along the flight path. Arrival at LAX is scheduled for between 11 a.m. and noon Friday.
Weather conditions forced project managers to postpone the original start of the flight from Monday to Tuesday. That flight date was scrubbed after thunderstorms prompted another postponement.
Managers conducted another weather briefing Tuesday morning and gave the go-ahead for Wednesday's departure.
Once it arrives at LAX, the shuttle will be prepared at a United Airlines hangar for its 12-mile trip on surface streets to the Science Center. The two-day journey on surface streets to the Science Center is expected to begin Oct. 12.
The cross-country flight marks a return home for Endeavour, which was built at Rockwell International Space Systems in Palmdale as a replacement for Challenger. The shuttle was part of 25 missions into space, spending 299 days in orbit and circling the Earth 4,671 times, traveling nearly 122.9 million miles, according to NASA.
The Florida-to-California journey marks the final flight for a space shuttle. Atlantis will remain at Kennedy for display. Discovery is already at the Smithsonian Institution, parked at a hangar in Virginia since April.
NASA retired Endeavour in July 2011.