Monday, May 16, 2011

Shuttle Endeavour lifts-off on her final flight

Endeavour lifts-off to begin a 16 day mission today. (NASA)

The space shuttle Endeavour lifted-off this morning from America's Space Coast riding above a 700-foot golden flame toward earth orbit to begin her twenty-fifth and final mission.

A trouble-free countdown and nearly perfect weather helped keep NASA's penultimate launch of the space shuttle program on track.

Endeavour's all veteran crew of commander Mark Kelly, pilot Gregory H. Johnson and mission specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency, will spend twelve days docked to the space station as they deliver a few tones of fresh food, supplies, experiments and water for the station's six person crew.

A scarred piece of black tile was the only noted issue, and was repaired minutes later following it's discovery by a closeout crew member following hatch closure.

As the Air Force weather office at Cape Canaveral watched the low clouds break apart, the launch team pushed forward with prelaunch activities.

Minutes before launch, Kelly radioed his feelings to launch control and the nation, "On this final flight of space shuttle Endeavour, we want to thank the tens of thousands of dedicated employees that have put there hands on this incredible ship and dedicated their lives to the space shuttle program.

This mission represents the power of teamwork, commitment and exploration -- it is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore. We must not stop. To all of the millions watching today, including our spouses, children, family and friends, we thank you for your support."

Endeavour -- NASA's newest orbiter of the fleet -- lifted-off on her final voyage upon the ocean of space at 8:56:28 a.m. EDT, today from launch complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center.

Powered by three main engines and two solid rocket boosters, they provide the necessary lift of 20% and 80% respectively of the thrust needed at launch.

Burning 11,000 pounds of propellant per second, the twin solid rocket boosters carried the shuttle up to an altitude of 29 miles high and then separated from the sides of Endeavour's external fuel tank 124 seconds after launch.

Twenty seconds into the ascent, Endeavour punched a hole into a low cloud deck as she rolled into a heads down attitude and out over the Atlantic waters.

Clouds obscured portions of the launch for some of the nearly 500,000 visitors who were expected to watch the launch from north of Titusville, around the space center and south to Melbourne.

"This was one of the quickest disappearances of the shuttle that I've experienced. But we have the rules in place for valid engineering reasons and range safety reasons," launch director Mike Leinbach stated following Endeavour's arrival into orbit.

As Endeavour launched, the International Space Station flew 240 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia.

The shuttle followed the same route as the station by flying up the eastern seaboard of the United States and up the the far eastern section of Canada.

After a two day chase, Endeavour's crew will guide their craft in slowly and dock to the space station at 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday. It will be the 36th station docking by an orbiter and Endeavour's 11th since 2000.

Endeavour became the replacement orbiter for Challenger which was lost to the ages in 1986. Built from existing spare parts, Endeavour was built in Downey, Calif. and was delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in May 1991.

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