Space shuttle Endeavour makes its final landing at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility, completing a 16-day mission to the International Space Station.
Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls
Space shuttle Endeavour and its six-astronaut crew sailed home for the final time, ending a 16-day journey of more than 6.5 million miles (10.5 million kilometers) with a landing at 2:35 a.m. EDT today at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
STS-134 was the last mission for the youngest of NASA's space shuttle fleet. Since 1992, Endeavour flew 25 missions, spent 299 days in space, orbited Earth 4,671 times, and traveled 122,883,151 miles (197,761,262 km).
"We are very proud of Endeavour's legacy, and this penultimate flight of the space shuttle program once again demonstrated the amazing skill and dedication of our astronauts and the entire workforce," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "As we begin the transition from the shuttle program to the commercial transportation of our crews and cargo, our ability to tackle big challenges remains steadfast and will ensure that NASA reaches even more destinations farther in the solar system."
Mark Kelly commanded the flight and was joined by Pilot Greg H. Johnson and Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and the European Space Agency's Roberto Vittori. Endeavour delivered the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS), beginning a scientific voyage of discovery to our solar system and beyond from the International Space Station. By measuring cosmic rays, AMS is designed to help researchers understand the origin of the universe and search for evidence of dark matter, strange matter and antimatter.
Endeavour also delivered the Express Logistics Carrier-3, a platform carrying spare parts that will sustain space station operations once the shuttles are retired from service. The astronauts performed four spacewalks to maintain station systems and install new components.
These were the last scheduled spacewalks by shuttle crew members and brought the final number of shuttle excursions to 164. During 159 spacewalks for assembly and maintenance of the space station, astronauts and cosmonauts have spent a total of 1,002 hours and 37 minutes outside.
Fincke set a new record for time a U.S. astronaut has spent in space when he reached his 377th day on May 27, surpassing previous record-holder Peggy Whitson. With today's landing, Fincke's record now is at 382 days in space.
STS-134 was the 134th shuttle flight and the 36th shuttle mission dedicated to station assembly and maintenance. With Endeavour and its crew safely home, the stage is set for the launch of shuttle Atlantis on its STS-135 mission, targeted to begin July 8.
Four veteran astronauts will deliver supplies and spare parts to the space station. The 12-day mission also will install an experiment designed to demonstrate and test the tools, technologies and techniques needed to refuel satellites in space robotically — even satellites not designed to be serviced.
Chris Ferguson, a veteran of two previous shuttle missions, will command the flight. Doug Hurley will be the pilot, a role he filled on the STS-127 mission in 2009. Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim will be the mission specialists. Magnus spent 4½ months aboard the station beginning in November 2008. Walheim flew on the STS-110 mission in 2002 and the STS-122 mission in 2008.
STS-135 will be Atlantis' 33rd mission and the 37th shuttle flight dedicated to station assembly and maintenance. It will be the 135th and final mission of NASA's Space Shuttle Program.