CAPE CANAVERAL – The newest space shuttle in NASA’s fleet was delivered out to Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for the last time on Mar. 10. Endeavour began her march to the launch pad at 7:56 p.m. EST. NASA prepared the orbiter for its STS-134 mission, slated to launch Apr. 19 at 7:48 p.m. EST.
Endeavour rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on one of the crawler-transporters. These massive vehicles are designed to move very slowly and they only move about a mile an hour. Endeavour’s trip therefore took about four hours to reach LC39A. The shuttle had been slated to rollout to the launch pad a few hours after her older sister, Discovery, touched down on runway 15 nearby. Bad weather pushed the rollout to the following day.
STS-134 is Endeavour’s 25th and last flight. It is a resupply flight to the International Space Station. Its payload consists of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer -02 (AMS-02) as well as the Express Logistics Carrier-3.
The crew consists of Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg Johnson and Mission Specialists; Mike Fincke, Andrew J. Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.
In the wake of the horrific shootings in Tucson, Arizona, it was uncertain if Kelly would still command the mission. His wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was seriously injured in the shooting rampage. Afterward Kelly requested a backup commander be assigned (veteran astronaut Rick Sturckow was given the nod for this role). With time and by all accounts with his wife’s blessing Kelly rejoined his crewmates in their training.
Endeavour was built after the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. The shuttle first took to the skies in 1992. After Endeavour completes her final “wheel-stop” there will only be one flight remaining in the shuttle program, STS-135, currently scheduled to launch on June 28.
“I’d like Endeavour to have another 20 missions ahead of her,” said STS-134’s Pilot Greg Johnson. “However the higher-ups have determined that it’s time for her to retire.”