Friday, March 11, 2011

Shuttle Endeavour arrives at launch pad for April liftoff

Shuttle Endeavour during sunrise today a top pad 39A. (NASA)

One day after space shuttle Discovery returned home from her final voyage, sister ship Endeavour was moved out to her ocean side launch pad to prepare for her final flight in April.

Shuttle Endeavour left the massive Vehicle Assembly Building last night at 7:56 p.m. EST, to begin the 3 mile trek upon a gravel-covered road out to launch pad 39-A here at the Kennedy Space Center.

Space center employees who worked to prepare the entire space shuttle stack for launch gathered
along with their families in the darkness outside to applaud their work as the pride of America's space program inched away from the assembly building.

"I had never witnessed a roll out before, much less ride on the Mobile Launch Platform! Thousands of people gathered to share in the event," Endeavour pilot Gregory H. Johnson wrote from Kennedy this morning of his upcoming spacecraft.

Moving at 1 m.p.h. a top the mobile launch platform, the tank like treads of the mobile crawler transport delivered Endeavour to a precise point a top launch pad 39-A at 3:49 a.m. this morning.

NASA's newest orbiter is scheduled to lift-off on April 19 at 7:48:40 p.m. to begin her twenty-fifth and final space flight on a two week flight to the International Space Station.

Two days following launch, Endeavour's commander Mark Kelly will guide the orbiter in for a docking at about 4:40 p.m.

The shuttle's six man crew will then get to work to deploy a $1.5 billion particle physics detector on the outside of the space station.

Endeavour's prime payload is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer which will be plucked from the aft section of the orbiter's bay by Endeavour's robotic arm and moved out and away. The space station's 58-foot arm will grapple the AMS and place it on the Starboard 3 truss segment's payload attach site.

The spectrometer "will use the unique environment of space to study the universe and its origin by searching for antimatter, dark matter while performing precision measurements of cosmic rays composition and flux," according to AMS scientists.

The AMS is intended to operate through 2020 or longer while scientists from fifty-six institutions in sixteen countries perform their own studies and investigations into the cosmic rays in our galaxy.

Endeavour's all veteran space crew is led by Kelly, includes pilot Johnson, and mission specialists Michael Fincke,
Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.

The crew are due arrive on the Space Coast to practice launch pad emergency drills on March 29, and will wrap up their stay with a mock countdown with the launch team on April 1.

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