Carried piggyback on a barge hauled by two tugboats, escorted by a Coast Guard cutter and helicopter and surrounded by a giddy flotilla of small boats, the space shuttle replica glided into Clear Lake Channel Friday afternoon, while more than 100 Space Center Houston supporters, NASA execs and friends cheered from the terrace of a swank Marina del Sol mansion.
As the 123-foot reproduction reached its closest point to the party site, Ezra Charles and his band cranked up "America the Beautiful" a la Ray Charles, sending goosebumps across the crowd that had gathered to welcome the shuttle.
This celebration was on a small scale in comparison to the street party complete with fireworks tonight in Clear Lake and the shuttle replica parade Sunday morning. Space Center Houston has a series of "Shuttlebration" events planned around the arrival.
Adults acted like kids waiting for Santa as they stood at the edge of the waterfront property with binoculars, cameras and camera phones in hand.
"I think this is the reawakening for this community," said party hostess Margaret Watkins. "We felt such a sense of loss for a time and now we feel like we have something to hold on to as a memory of what we had."
Space Center Houston board member Pat Cunningham organized the afternoon gathering that had adults acting like kids waiting for Santa as they stood at the edge of the waterfront property with binoculars, cameras and camera phones in hand.
Key player among those keeping an eye on the water was John Hallmark, president of Osprey Line, a subsidiary of Kirby Barge Corp. which provided transportation of the shuttle replica from Kennedy Space Center.
He explained that the 1,200-mile journey began seven days ago and required a 3,400-horsepower tug to make the Gulf of Mexico crossing, then two smaller vessels, due to draft restrictions, for the Clear Lake Channel leg and then three small boats with outboards to haul the space vessel into the NASA channel.
The company opted to donate the transportation, Hallmark said because, "We're a large employer in the Houston area (4,300) and, as a corporation, we call Houston home and the opportunity to underwrite this was our contribution, a way to give back to the community."
Louis Schaefer, who heads Legacy Offshore, welcomed guests to his lavish home, formerly the residence of paperback author Judith McNaught. Those guests included NASA director of external relations Mike Kincaid, NASA human resources director Natalie Saiz and NASA director of education Melanie Johnson.
Others toasting the arrival included Chris Swanson, Alice and Keith Mosing, Byron Hood, Susie Cunningham, Tommy Ware, Ann Vernon, Emmett Capt and Karen and Michael Albert.