Thursday, June 2, 2011

In Retrospect: Space Shuttle Endeavour

Space Shuttle Endeavour lands for the final time

It's officially over: space shuttle Endeavour's career has come to an end as it touched down for the 25th and final time yesterday upon completion of the STS-134 mission. In a career that spanned 19 years from May 7, 1992 to yesterday, Endeavour has firmly made a place for herself in space lore and will make a very worthy centerpiece at the California Science Center.

Right from the get-go, Endeavour was breaking new ground in space exploration, with her maiden voyage, STS-49, featuring an unprecedented 3 astronaut spacewalk and the longest time spent by an astronaut outside a space vehicle since Apollo 17 back in 1972, all in an effort to catch, modify, and redeploy a satellite.

In its second flight, Endeavour carried Dr. Mae Jemison, the first black female astronaut, into space.

In 1993, Endeavour made the first service call to the Hubble Space Telescope, which had become something of an embarrassment to NASA because of a faulty mirror.

In 1998, Endeavour had the distinction of becoming the first shuttle to visit two space stations in a single year, docking with the aging Russian Mir in May and then visited the barely-there ISS in December to deliver the first American-built component.

In 2007, more than 20 years since the Challenger disaster claimed the life of Christa McAuliffe, who was to be America's first teacher in space, Endeavour carried Barbara Morgan, McAuliffe's backup for Challenger, into space.

Going out in spectacular fashion, on its final mission, Endeavour delivered the most expensive, non structural component to the ISS: a $2 billion (yes, billion) physics experiment, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

Endeavour would visit the ISS 12 times in total, 10 of which were assembly missions.

Needless to say, Endeavour has had quite a ride!

Now, with only one fligght left in the shuttle program, all eyes and hands are focsed on Atlantis, which was originally supposed to have lown its final mission last fall. However, despite budget concerns, a final shuttle flight, STS-135, was approved to deliver a last load of spare parts to the ISS for the simple reason that the shuttles have, by far, the largest payload capacities of any space vehicle in history.

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