Truth is, Space Shuttle Endeavour and I never really had a long-term relationship.

I never went to see Endeavour blast off into space, and I never watched it glide back to earth. I never stepped inside it, or met an astronaut who had flown it. In fact, I never had any particular interest in Endeavour — other than the fact that it was a Space Shuttle, and all the shuttles were inherently interesting. Despite that, I got to know Endeavour rather well, in a very intimate way, at a very special place, during a very special moment just before it settled into sequestered retirement.

It was September 20, 2012, and I had been invited by the (wonderful) NASA Social program to visit the Dreyden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in the southern California desert. We were there to see Endeavor as it arrived for the final leg of its ferry-flight en route to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, where it would be put on permanent display.

The entire shuttle fleet had been decommissioned, and all the other orbiters had already settled into retirement. Shuttle Enterprise, a non-functional prototype, had been relocated to the Intrepid Air and Space Museum in New York City. Shuttle Discovery went to the Smithsonian Museum in Virginia. Atlantis stayed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where most shuttle flights had originated.

But Endeavour still needed to get to its permanent home. So in September 2012, NASA bolted the shuttle to the back of its Boeing 747 carrier aircraft for one final transcontinental flight to California. By the time I caught up with the duo on September 20, it was the last time in history when Endeavour — or any shuttle orbiter — would ever be perched on the back of a 747, exposed to the sun and the wind, and looking much as it did during most of its working life. The very next day, Endeavour would stop being a spacecraft and start its tenure as a museum piece.

NASA carted us out the side of a runway at Edwards, just in time to watch Endeavour make a grand entrance — just like in the old days:

Endeavour had a great career. The youngest shuttle in NASA's fleet, it had been ordered as a replacement for Challenger, the shuttle lost following a horrific explosion during liftoff in 1986. Endeavour was built from spare parts left over from shuttles Atlantis and Discovery, and construction was completed in 1991. The name was selected by American schoolchildren as a tribute to HMS Endeavour, the 106-foot British ship Captain James Cook sailed to explore the South Pacific during the late eighteenth century.

In 1992, shuttle Endeavour, shiny and white, blasted into space for its maiden voyage:

The shuttle's exterior is covered in heat-resistant tiles that shielded the orbiter from the 3000 F degree temperatures of atmospheric re-entry. The black tiles were the most critical, because they protected the parts of the spacecraft that endured the greatest heat. The loss of shuttle Columbia during re-entry in 2003 was attributed to the damage a few of these black tiles sustained during launch — damage that exposed Columbia's vulnerable inner structure to the fatal effects of searing hot plasma.

Up close, Endeavour's underside looked like snakeskin.

A few minutes after circling the Golden Gate Bridge, Endeavour flew right by my house. A neighbor captured this video of it floating lazily over San Francisco's Bernal Hill:

After that, Endeavour turned south for the short flight down to LA, with a photogenic pass near the famous Hollywood sign. Then came the final landing at LAX, and one last separation from the 747. Never again would a space shuttle take to skies. Never again would the wind pass beneath the wings of a NASA shuttle orbiter.

Today Endeavour sits inside a climate-controlled shed at the California Science Center. It's not a bad place to end up, I suppose. Still, I got to know Endeavour pretty well during its last few hours of airworthiness, so I feel confident saying this: Endeavour was definitely born to be somewhere else.

Photos: Images of Endeavour and carrier 747 at Edwards Air Force Base by Todd Lappin/Telstar Logistics. Images of Endeavour airborne or in space via NASA (in the public domain).