May 31, 2011

Final Endeavour Crew Ready For Return To Earth

Space shuttle astronauts have tested Endeavour's landing systems in preparation for an early Wednesday touchdown at the Kennedy Space Center ending Endeavour's 19-year flying career.

The Endeavour crew completed four spacewalks and several maintenance upgrades on a long to-do list as part of the shuttle's final mission.

Endeavour Commander Mark Kelly explained during an in-flight interview that the mission had been a success and he was looking forward to getting back home. "We did four very successful spacewalks and a bunch of transfer and it was a very good ten days or so that we were docked here."

Endeavour's primary mission on its final flight was to deliver and install the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector, designed to study dark matter, antimatter and other high-energy phenomena that cannot be detected from Earth. It was successfully installed and is undergoing calibration for upcoming experiments.

A final flight for the shuttle program will end with a final supply run to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Atlantis in July. "The space shuttle has been the workhorse of the US space program for better than 30 years now, so it'll be sad to see it retired," Kelly explained to reporters.

"But we are looking forward to new spacecraft and new destinations and we're all excited about the future," he added.

A night landing for the youngest shuttle in NASA's fleet, will be the 25th time NASA has brought a space shuttle back to Earth in darkness. Endeavour will have traveled 123 million miles by flight's end and spent 299 days in space and is the youngest shuttle, first flying in 1992 as the replacement for Challenger, Reuters reports.

Endeavour will return to solid ground with a new record-holder aboard. Mike Fincke, who previously served two long-duration missions on the ISS, will have spent 381 days in space -- more than any other US astronaut.

Russia, which flew a series of space stations before partnering with NASA in the international endeavor, dominates the space endurance record books. Top on the list is cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, who flew six missions on the Soviet-era Mir space station, two shuttle missions and two stints on the ISS, for a total of 803 days in space.

"I hope my record is soon broken," Finke said.


Image Caption: The STS-134 crew aboard space shuttle Endeavour talks to reporters during a live in-flight media event on Monday. Photo credit: NASA TV


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