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CAPE CANAVERAL – The youngest orbiter in NASA’s shuttle fleet headed to Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the last time on Friday, Mar. 10. The shuttle started its slow trek out to the launch pad around 8 p.m. EST. Endeavour is being prepared for the STS-134 mission which is scheduled to launch on Apr. 19 at 7:48 p.m. EST.
Endeavour was wheeled out of NASA’s massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on top of the crawler-transporter. This huge, tracked vehicle moves at a blistering pace of about a mile an hour. Therefore it took Endeavour several hours to reach LC39A. What is known as “Rollout” had been slated to occur the day prior, but a front of nasty weather blew in and shuttle managers decided to push the trip back a day.
The STS-134 will be Endeavour’s 25th and final mission. It is a resupply flight to the International Space Station. Its payload consists of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer -02 (AMS-02) as well as the Express Logistics Carrier-3.
“As exciting as it will be to fly this mission, what’s even more exciting is the science that this flight will bring to the International Space Station,” said STS-134 Pilot Greg Johnson. “I have no doubt that the AMS-02 will teach us new things about how the universe works and it may even show us new particles that we didn’t even know existed.”
Commander Mark Kelly will lead the crew of six, Johnson is the pilot and the Mission Specialists will be Mike Fincke, Andrew J. Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and European astronaut Roberto Vittori.
For a while it was uncertain whether-or-not Mark Kelly, the mission’s commander would be on this historic flight. His wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was severely injured when she was shot in the head by alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner. NASA named Rick Sturckow as the mission’s backup commander. However, Kelly announced later that he would remain the mission’s commander and resumed training with his crewmates. By all accounts, it was Giffords that encouraged him to continue and it appears that she will back at Kennedy Space Center when the mission launches.
“While all of us that have worked on Endeavour are a little sad that this is her final mission, we remained focused on conducting her last flight as safely as possible,” said Endeavour’s Flow Director, Dana Hutcherson.
Endeavour was constructed after the loss of Challenger in 1986. The orbiter first flew in 1992. After the STS-134 mission concludes there will only be one flight remaining in the shuttle program, STS-135, currently slated for a June 28 launch. It has been hinted that Endeavour might end up staying at Kennedy Space Center – at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. However, an official announcement has yet to be made.