Space shuttle Endeavour pilot Mark Kelly has been a fan of science fiction since he was a boy.
The NASA astronaut has had aspirations of being the first person to walk on Mars, "and that ended last year without me ever making it," Kelly told Patch at a press conference at the Time Warner premises in Culver City on Thursday morning.
As the space shuttle from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center in Exposition Park on Thursday night, Kelly reminisced about his first experience with Endeavour.
"My relationship with space shuttle Endeavour started over 10 years ago when I flew one of its earlier missions as a pilot," he said. "We went up to the international space station and I became very fond of that space craft."
More important than that first flight, said Kelly, was the opportunity to fly Endeavour's final mission as the commander June 2011.
As preparations were being made for Endeavour's decomission flight to LAX last month, Kelly requested the shuttle fly over he and Arizona Representative Gabby Gifford's house in Tuscon.
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"It was great for us to see it," said Kelly. "They were really kind to do that. The city of Tuscon was very excited—even though they didn't have a lot of notice—Gabby was really excited, our daughter Claire was really excited, I was very nervous."
Kelly was nervous because the night before he was the one pulling the latitude and longitude coordinates off of a map program on the Internet, he said. Kelly gave the coordinates to the two pilots flying the modified Boeing 747 that carried the shuttle.
"And then the next day thinking, 'I wonder if that was really a 1 or a 7 and maybe they're going to fly 10 miles away from here and this is not going to be good for me," said Kelly.
Kelly hopes that the recently decommissioned space shuttle will motivate kids to get science and technology related jobs.
"We've got a problem in this country with STEM education, specifically … science, technology, engineering and math," he said. "We have really started to fall behind."
Kelly commended Time Warner for its efforts in the Connect a Million Minds initiative, meant to gets kids excited about science and technology. The cable company has put $150 million toward the initiative, Kelly said, and part of that will also help to fund the building of Endeavour's display at the Science Center.
"I'm looking forward to one day bringing my kids out there and maybe some grandkids that I don't have yet," he said. "I'll be able to look up and say, 'Hey kids, you know one day a long time ago I took that thing into space.'"
Getting Endeavour through the streets of L.A. and to its new home at the Science Center will be a challenge, said Kelly. Time Warner is helping to facilitate the shuttle's move by relocating fiber optic cables along the route. It also donated some $4 million to the effort.
The future is bright for the space program, Kelly said.
"And maybe one of these kids that come out to the space center and looks up at the space shuttle Endeavour...maybe one of those kids will be walking on the planet Mars one day."