CAPE CANAVERAL — Endeavour, the youngest orbiter in NASA’s shuttle fleet, sent windows rattling for miles around the Central Florida region as it thundered off Launch Complex 39A at 8:56 a.m. EDT on its way to orbit – and into the history books. Today’s launch is the last one scheduled for Endeavour and the next-to-last mission of the shuttle era. Endeavour’s 25th flight will be a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
The primary payload for this mission is the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02 (AMS-02). This experiment will scan the heavens using a large magnet for anti-matter, and dark-matter. Also on this flight is the Express Logistics Carrier-3, a pallet that will be affixed to the outside of the ISS that will carry spare parts and equipment. Endeavour also has the Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Rick Mitigation (STORRM) equipment installed within her that will test navigation equipment for the Orion Spacecraft.
The crew for this mission consisted of Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg Johnson and Mission Specialists; Mike Fincke, Greg Cahmitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori. By all accounts the crew manuevered their way through the rigors of launch day with little-to-no issues.
“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.”
Kelly’s wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords attended today’s launch marking the second time she has left her hospital where she is recuperating after she was shot in an outdoor event in Tucson Arizona this past January.
Endeavour was scheduled to launch on April 19, however Russia had an unmanned cargo vessel called a Progress slated to dock with the orbiting outpost and refused to reschedule their launch. Shuttle mission managers were then forced to push back Endeavour’s flight until April 29.
This launch date too would fail to see the youngest orbiter in NASA’s fleet head into space. A faulty Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) would cause the launch date to slip to Monday.
There is only one more shuttle flight remaining in the program, STS-135, currently slated for a June 28 lift-off. Atlantis will fly this mission. Upon completion, Atlantis will be decommissioned and placed on display nearby at the adjacent Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
“The one thing that struck me was a sense of nostalgia,” said five-time shuttle veteran Jim Halsell. “While I agree with the new direction we’re going on, I will miss all the abilities that the shuttle brought to the table.”