Friday, April 29, 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour Last Flight

Space shuttle Endeavour crew
 Space shuttle Endeavour crew

After nearly two decades of achievements in space, space shuttle Endeavour was scheduled to make one last reach for the stars on its 25th and final mission. The fourteen day mission would be the 36th shuttle mission to the International Space Station.

The crew members for the shuttle STS-134 mission are Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Gregory H. Johnson and Mission Specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.

The mission Commander, Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, is a husband of the wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who will attend the shuttle launch. She has been in Houston, where she is undergoing rehabilitation for a gunshot wound to the head. She was attacked January 8 in her Tucson, Arizona, hometown.

Space shuttle Endeavour has spent nineteen years pushing boundaries, and its final mission will allow that legacy to live on. It was the last shuttle built, and made its maiden flight in May, 1992. After retirement, it will be placed on permanent display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

Among Endeavour’s missions was the first to include four spacewalks, and then the first to include five. Its STS-67 mission set a length record almost two full days longer than any shuttle mission before it. Its airlock is the only one to have seen three spacewalkers exit through it for a single spacewalk. And in its cargo bay, the first two pieces of the International Space Station were joined together.

On STS-134, however, it will help push boundaries of a different sort as it delivers a new, cutting edge science experiment to the space station: the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is a state-of-the-art, high energy particle physics experiment built in Geneva by a collaboration of 16 different countries. It will search for clues on what the universe is made of and how it began, the origin of dark matter, antimatter and strangelets, pulsars, blazers and gammaray bursters. And that’s just what the scientists know to look for.

After AMS is installed on station’s truss during the fourth day of the mission, a pallet of spare parts will be added to the space station on the mission’s flight day 5. Then there will be a string of spacewalks – the last spacewalks to be performed by a shuttle crew – dedicated to getting the station in the best possible shape for the end of the space shuttle program.

The spacewalkers will top off a leaky ammonia loop and lubricate one of the massive joints that turn the station’s solar array wings. They’ll also add to the Russian segment of the station a handhold for the station’s robotic arm, extending the arm’s range to that area, and make a permanent home on the station’s truss for the shuttle robotic arm’s 50-foot long boom extension, so that it can be left behind to give the station’s arm a greater reach.

The weather forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions at launch time, according to Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters. The only concerns for launch may be the crosswinds at the Shuttle Landing Facility and a low cloud ceiling associated with a front moving into Central Florida.
The final lift off was scheduled for 3:47 p.m. EDT on April 29, 2011 at the NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A, but due to some technical difficulties it was postponed.

Officials said a delay of at least three days was needed to fix heaters that are being used in the equipment that powers both the movement of both the shuttle’s engines and the flaps during the shuttle's ride into space. The crowd of hundreds of thousands who gathered to witness what was supposed to be the second-to-last takeoff in the space shuttle program - were very disappointed by the delay.

For more information on Endeavour's final mission, please visit NASA
Image source NASA