View of the Space Shuttle Endeavour
The Space Shuttle Endeavour has successfully launched on the last mission for the craft. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Defying what has become convention in the past few months, the Space Shuttle Endeavour has actually launched. The Endeavour has been delayed for some time due to a series of irregularities and defects that could have put the mission in jeopardy, but it has finally cleared the launch pad. It is the final flight of the Endeavour.

Last flight of Endeavour begins

The Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off close to 9 a.m., Eastern standard time after a series of delays, according to CNN. The last attempt at a launch was made on April 29, but had to be canceled because of a problem with a heating unit aboard the shuttle that is located in the hydraulic system, according to Reuters. The launch was given the go-ahead earlier this week. The mission, officially designated STS-134, will take the Endeavour to the International Space Station, where it will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a $2 billion scientific instrument that was built by a 60-nation consortium. The machine is a particle detection and analysis machine that will look for particles that aren’t detectable by normal telescopes and other instruments.

Space shuttle winds down

The general tone around Mission Control was bittersweet. The Endeavour will be retired after it returns from its 16-day mission, which will also deliver some spare parts to the ISS. The shuttle program will then launch its last flight in late June, according to the Christian Science Monitor, when the Shuttle Atlantis goes on the program’s last flight. The shuttle program was officially scheduled to begin winding down under the George W. Bush administration, after the shuttle Columbia exploded during re-entry. There have been 14 astronauts killed during the shuttle program; three astronauts total lost their lives in all other NASA programs.

Future of NASA

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was present at the launch to watch Mark Kelly, her husband, take off as mission commander, according to CBS. Giffords is still recovering from the gunshot to the head that nearly killed her several months ago. After the Atlantis returns home, astronauts will have to hitch a ride aboard Soyuz spacecraft to go the ISS for the time being. Private contractors are supposed to start developing spacecraft which astronauts will “rent” for flights into space. NASA had been working on a replacement for the shuttle dubbed the Constellation program, which was nearly identical to the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs using a capsule set atop a very large rocket. However, the program was scrubbed in lieu of handing responsibility to private firms. It will be several years before any such craft are available.




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