KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Setting the morning skies ablaze, the space shuttle Endeavour soared skyward on its 25th and final mission at 8:56 a.m. EDT. Endeavour had been slated to launch back on Apr. 29, however a short circuit in the orbiter’s Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) forced mission managers to push the launch back until today.
Exhaustive efforts were made to repair and test the APU and the adjoining components to see that all were functioning flawlessly. Once engineers had ensured that the issue that scrubbed last month’s launch attempt had been fixed – the flight was given a green light to try again.
The repairs obviously worked as Endeavour roared off of NASA’s Launch Complex 39A providing Central Florida residents with a thunderous wakeup call. The early morning launch gave the throngs of guests that flocked to the local area to view the historic flight their money’s worth, as the shuttle seared a fiery trail to orbit.
“Our objective for today was to see the crew safely to orbit and we did that successfully,” said NASA Launch Director Mike Leinbach. “This is what we train for and it’s what we’ll do until the program ends.”
Endeavour’s payload for this flight consists of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02 (AMS-02) and the Express Logistics Carrier-03, essentially a storage rack for tools and spare parts. Also on this flight is the Sensor Test of Orion Rel-nav Risk Mitigation Detailed Test Objective (STORRM) and will test out navigation gear for the new Orion Spacecraft.
Endeavour is all set to dock with the International Space Station around 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday.
On board Endeavour, the crew of six was fastened securely to their seats for their ride into history. The final crew of Endeavour is comprised of Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg Johnson and Mission Specialist; Greg Chamitoff, Mike Fincke, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.
April’s delay was all the more frustrating given that one of the guests had to receive special clearance – just to be allowed to attend. Kelly’s wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords flew in for both launch attempts. Giffords was seriously injured in a shooting that left six others dead in Tucson, Arizona this past January.
“We didn’t get the chance to meet her,” said NASA Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses regarding Giffords’ attendance at today’s launch. “That said, I think it’s a pretty remarkable testament to have what happened to her take place and then to have her travel here twice and see her husband fly into space – just amazing.”
When Endeavour’s crew tried to launch last month President Barack Obama, his wife Michelle and their daughters Malia and Sasha were also in attendance. This added meant that even more attention was focused on the flight. This time the president and his family could not make it.
When Endeavour lands it will be prepared for the next phase of its life – retirement. Endeavour will be sent to the California Science Institute in Los Angeles. The shuttle Discovery is already being readied for her new home, the Stephen F. Udvar Hazy Center of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Virginia. A test article of the shuttle, Enterprise, currently at the Smithsonian will be relocated to make room for Discovery. Enterprise will be sent to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York. The shuttle Atlantis is slated to fly the final mission of the shuttle era later this summer and will be retired to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor.
“For me, this was just another mission,” said Manuel Virata a retired Public Affairs Specialist with NASA. “I don’t think it will hit me that it’s over until the last wheel stop.”
|Endeavour's last launch. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian