Space Shuttle Endeavour launches for final time

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The crew of Endeavour's final mission, STS-134, which launched on Monday at 8:56 AM EDT.
Image: NASA.
Video of Endeavour's final launch. (Video: NASA)

The Space Shuttle Endeavour launched on its final mission, STS-134, at 8:56 AM EDT Monday. The mission's primary objectives are to deliver Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2 and ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 3, as well as other materials and supplies, to the International Space Station (ISS).

The shuttle launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with six crewmembers aboard, including mission commander Mark Kelly, pilot Gregory Johnson, and mission specialists Roberto Vittori, Andrew Feustel, and Gregory Chamitoff.

The shuttle is scheduled to arrive and dock with the ISS on Wednesday morning (EDT) to begin a two-week stay aboard the orbiting laboratory. While aboard the station, the crew is scheduled to perform four extra-vehicular activities, or spacewalks, to install components to the exterior of the ISS.

Endeavour is scheduled to land for the final time on June 1st.

Mission commander Mark Kelly is the husband of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in the 2011 Tucson shooting. Rep. Giffords flew to Kennedy Space Center to witness the launch.

The launch was originally scheduled for April 29, but was delayed hours before the launch after the discovery of a technical problem that required that the launch be scrubbed in order to be fixed.

Before liftoff, commander Mark Kelly shared his thoughts on the mission: "As Americans, we endeavour to build a better life than the generation before and endeavour to be a united nation. In those efforts we are often tested. This mission represents the power of teamwork, commitment and exploration. It is in the DNA of our country to reach for the stars and explore. We must not stop."

Approximately 500,000 spectators came to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the launch, but a passenger aboard a commercial flight from New York to Palm Beach, Stefanie Gordon, obtained video from her seat on the airplane.

STS-134 is the 25th and final mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and the 134th and penultimate mission of the Space Shuttle Program. Endeavour, NASA's youngest space shuttle, was originally built to replace the Space Shuttle Challenger after the 1986 disaster that killed its seven crewmembers during the ill-fated launch of the STS-51-L mission. Endeavour's first flight was STS-49 in May 1992.

There is only one scheduled shuttle mission remaining after STS-134, which will be STS-135. That mission, using Space Shuttle Atlantis, is currently scheduled for a July launch.

"Today's final launch of Endeavour is a testament to American ingenuity and leadership in human spaceflight," commented NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who is a former astronaut and veteran of four spaceflights himself. "As we look toward a bright future with the International Space Station as our anchor and new destinations in deep space on the horizon, we salute the astronauts and ground crews who have ensured the orbiter's successful missions. The presence of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at the launch inspired us all, just as America's space program has done for the past 50 years."