Space Shuttle Endeavour enters history books after nineteen years following penultimate landing of program

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour landed for the final time at 2:34 a.m. EDT (0534 UTC) at Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S. Wednesday, marking the end of its nineteen-year operational career. The mission, STS-134, is the penultimate of the NASA Space Shuttle program; Atlantis is scheduled to fly the final mission in July.

The commander of the mission, Mark Kelly, paid tribute to the spaceship shortly after touchdown, saying, “It’s sad to see her land for the last time, but she really has a great legacy.” Endeavour launched earlier this month on a mission to carry the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) and several spare parts to the International Space Station (ISS). The AMS will enable scientists to examine cosmic rays and learn more about the history of the universe.

The six-member crew of STS-134 consists of commander Mark Kelly, pilot Greg Johnson, and mission specialists Michael Fincke, Roberto Vittori, Andrew Feustel, and Gregory Chamitoff. European Space Agency’s Vittori is scheduled to be the last non-American to fly aboard the Shuttle.

Kelly is the husband of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded during a January shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Giffords watched the launch from the Kennedy Space Center on May 16, but was asleep in a hospital during the early morning landing, according to Kelly.

The end of the shuttle program comes after NASA opted to phase out the aging fleet, which has been in use since 1981, due to financial problems with maintaining the crafts. According to BBC News Online, NASA thinks that allowing private businesses to win space transportation contracts will generate enough revenue to pay for sending astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

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In a statement, NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr., said, “We are very proud of Endeavour’s legacy, and this penultimate flight of the space shuttle program once again demonstrated the amazing skill and dedication of our astronauts and the entire workforce.” He stated that as NASA “begin[s] the transition from the shuttle program to the commercial transportation of [its] crews and cargo, [its] ability to tackle big challenges remains steadfast and will ensure that NASA reaches even more destinations farther in the Solar System.”

Space Shuttle Endeavour began service after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lifting off in 1986; all seven astronauts aboard died as a result of the disaster. Endeavour launched on its maiden flight, STS-49, in May 1992. During her career, Endeavour has orbited the planet 4,671 times, spent 299 days in space, and transported a total of 170 astronauts. The vehicle has traveled a total distance longer than 197.6 million kilometres (122.8 million miles). While in space, NASA’s Michael Fincke set a space endurance record, spending the longest total time of any American in space at 382 days. STS-134 was Fincke’s third spaceflight and first on the Space Shuttle. The spaceflight was the 25th and final flight of Endeavour, as well as the 134th and second-to-last of the entire Space Shuttle Program.

During the crew’s stay at the ISS, the crew completed the final four spacewalks scheduled to be performed by Space Shuttle crews. During these spacewalks, the crew installed components to the exterior of the station. Space Shuttle crews performed a total of 164 spacewalks, 159 of which contributed to the maintenance and completion of the International Space Station. Preparations are currently underway for Endeavour to go on public display in Los Angeles, California.

The final mission in the Space Shuttle program, STS-135, is scheduled to launch on July 8.

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Endeavour touching down at the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday.Image: NASA / Bill Ingalls.

Endeavour shortly after touchdown.Image: NASA / Mike Kerley and Tony Gray.

Endeavour after wheel stop.Image: NASA / Kenny Allen.

The International Space Station as seen from Endeavour, which was departing from there at the time, on May 30, 2011.Image: NASA.

The crew of STS-134 pose for a picture on the runway at Kennedy Space Center after Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final landing.Image: NASA / Bill Ingalls.

STS-134 crew patch.Image: NASA / Crew of STS-134.

Space Shuttle Endeavour on launch pad 39A prior to mission STS-127 on May 31, 2009.Image: NASA / Kim Shiflett.

Current NASA logo.Image: US Government.

Mark E. Kelly, commander of STS-134, seen here in January 2005.Image: NASA / JSC.

Pilot Gregory H. Johnson, seen here in October 2007.Image: NASA.

Michael Fincke was a mission specialist for this spaceflight.Image: NASA.

Roberto Vittori, as seen here in November 2000, was the flight engineer.Image: NASA.

Andrew J. Feustel, seen here in February 2008, was also a mission specialist on the spaceflight.Image: NASA.

Gregory Chamitoff, seen here in November 2007, was a fourth mission specialist for STS-134.Image: NASA.

Space Shuttle Challenger, which Endeavour replaced, launching on STS-7 in June 1983.Image: NASA.

Endeavour replaced Challenger after the craft exploded in January 1986.Image: Kennedy Space Center.

Space Shuttle Program patch.Image: NASA.

Space Shuttle Atlantis, which is due to carry out the final mission of the Space Shuttle program, seen here in February 2008, launching on STS-122.Image: NASA.

Patch for STS-135, the last planned space shuttle mission.Image: NASA.

Official photo of STS-135 crew members.Image: NASA / Robert Markowitz.

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