Endeavour has landed. The last space flight, STS-134, of the youngest shuttle in the NASA fleet, beloved by one and all, came to an end after 16 days in space on the second last mission NASA has planned to the International Space Station. Endeavour can now boast of 25 years of space flight career in which it spent 299 days in space, made 4672 orbits of Earth and covered a staggering 122.8 million miles. The shuttle will now be given pride of place at the California Science Center in Los Angelos.
Endeavour has been built to replace Challenger after the tragic fate it suffered in 1986. It made its first voyage into space in 1992, on a mission to grab an errant satellite. The darling child of the NASA fleet also had carried astronauts to the Hubble Space Telescope in 1993 in an attempt to correct the alignment of the mirror on the Telescope, after it was found that the much vaunted Space Telescope had blurred vision. The mission was a huge success and Hubble has never had to look back since. Incidentally, Endeavour was also the preferred vessel for the first manned flight undertaken to assemble the International Space Station in 1998.
Endeavour landed at 2:35 AM in the midst of complete darkness and cheered on by ground staff and a handful of people who had gathered at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. It was an emotional touchdown for all, but especially for Commander Mark Kelly. Kelly’s wife Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is in a rehab center in Houston having suffered a bullet to the head during a mass shooting in Tuscan, Arizona this January. She has since made a miraculous recovery and had in fact attended the Endeavour launch. Kelly has reportedly not called his wife up, since he didn’t want to wake her up so late at night.
The emotional scene was slightly buoyed up by the sight of Atlantis being lined up for launch at the launch pad for its last ever flight. Atlantis is due to be launched on the 8th of July tentatively. Discovery, the leader of the fleet, had already been retired in March. It is now housed at the Smithsonian Institution hangar in Washington.
With three out of four shuttles out of operation, NASA is looking for new ones to cï»¿ontinue its mission in space. It is also looking at unmanned deep space missions.
Endeavour looks almost too young to retire, but it has done its due. Here’s wishing Endeavour a happy retired life.