Controversy marked every step of Endeavour’s path to Los Angeles. From the beginning it was the old wrangling over which coast was the right coast – the ‘Left’ Coast or the East Coast? And did L.A. even deserve one of these precious birds?

The answer to the questions posed all the way along became crystal clear to those lucky enough to follow the majestic machine through the streets of L.A. or view the television coverage in October of 2012.

But back then it was how would the neighborhoods of central and south-central Los Angeles receive the behemoth rolling thru their communities and necessitating the removal of hundreds of trees and disrupting traffic flow for days, even weeks, as preparations were made for the parade of the century in this city.

Plans initially called for the public to be contained a block away from Endeavour as she made her way along – which proved to be impossible and totally unnecessary.

As a precaution, a pressure washing firm was engaged to follow Endeavour along the route to quickly wash away any eggs, tomatoes or paintballs that could be fired from a rowdy crowd. Such low expectations of people whose hard earned tax monies had also been used to make these space expeditions possible.

All these issues and concerns of the worthiness of Los Angeles to receive a shuttle were readily and soundly dispelled in the wildly enthusiastic yet totally respectful reception that greeted Endeavour every inch of the way.

Despite the delays that sometimes occurred along the way while wires were raised higher and tree branches were trimmed the additional few inches to clear her path, the people waited, and waited, into the night to have their moment with something greater than themselves, yet something that was part of them and they part of it.

People brought entire families to see this greatest achievement of mankind and their country. They brought newborns, the elderly and handicapped in wheelchairs, children from school; they dotted rooftops, hung from billboards and balconies, hoisted kids on shoulders to see history passing within reach of eyes and they respected authority. When the police asked them to move back or stay out from under Endeavour’s wings, all complied.

Everyone – but everyone, including police and moving officials – raised their cameras, cell phones, iPads or whatever they had to capture the scene all the way along the route 24/7 for three wondrous days.

It was a tremendous privilege to be among the crowds these wondrous three days, days that reminded all of the way our space program had united the world in what could be achieved when we call upon the very best in all of us from the people of our world.

It was the same feeling we had, those of us old enough to remember Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon for the first time in history back in 1969 – the first human step off the planet and into a new era – and now here we are again, marking another step in the right direction for humankind.

The Endeavour story, one year later, echoed last year’s story in a number of ways: low expectations in the turnout and enthusiasm of the people of Los Angeles, California Science Center’s concerns about publicizing an event which would be severely hamstrung by the government shutdown and budgetary constraints.

But, like last year, the real story was the people. They came enthusiastically and in droves. They came singly and in groups; from multi-generational families, neighborhood groups, schools, the handicapped. All arrived by whatever means they could muster. Like the United States itself, every race, creed, color and tongue could be seen and heard. A turn-out much like last year’s parade through the streets.

Smiling faces and faces filled with pride that turned to awe as they entered the presence of Endeavour itself.

The uncertainty we had felt earlier dissipated like fog in the presence of sunlight as we joined the crowd to snap photos of the great bird and the shining faces of those who had come to see her and pay their respects to this great “Endeavour” who had successfully completed her 26th Mission – that of arriving in Los Angeles to lend her example in teaching and leading other generations to their own discoveries.

Story by Mary Kanian. Photos by Julian Leek.