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At 9:58 a.m. this morning (Friday May 11), technicians unplugged Space Shuttle Endeavour marking the final power down of NASA’s last powered orbiter and termination of all power flowing to the flight deck. Today, Endeavour was euthanized. The flight deck went dark for the last time as Endeavour is being prepped inside Orbiter Processing Facility-2 (OPF-2) for final departure from the Kennedy Space Center later this year and display at her final resting place in Los Angeles.
As Endeavour was powered back up this past week for one final time to carry out decommissioning and safing activities, a tiny media group was invited to crawl inside and photographically record the flight deck as a living spaceship for the last time in history. Ken Kremer and Mike Deep were honored to receive a NASA invitation and to represent Universe Today and we share our photos of Endeavour’s last flight deck power-up here.
For me, standing on the astronauts flight deck was like being transported to the bridge of the “Starship Enterprise” – but this was real, not science fiction. I was at last standing on the “Starship Endeavour” and this was the closest I ever felt to being in space. The only thing better is being in orbit.
The blue display screens used by the Shuttle Commander and Pilot were real, lit and vividly moving before my eyes, dials were active and shining and multitudes of critical gauges lined the cabin all over from front to back, left to right , top to bottom.
Endeavour was the youngest in NASA’s fleet of three surviving orbiters and designated as vehicle OV-105. She flew 25 missions over a spaceflight career that spanned 19 years from the inaugural flight in 1992 to the final flight in 2011 to deliver the dark matter hunting Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the International Space Station (ISS). Altogether, Endeavour spent 299 days in space, orbited the Earth 4671 times and traveled over 197 million kilometers (123 million mi).
Endeavour’s power termination on May 11, 2012 comes almost exactly one year since her final launch on the 16 day long STS-134 mission on May 16, 2011. Since then technicians have been removing hazardous materials and propellants from the orbiters hydraulic and fuel lines and thoroughly cleansing Endeavour to make it safe for museum display to the general public. The power must be on to drain and purge the toxic materials.
This week I watched as technicians removed components of Endeavours fuel lines from the aft compartments that might possibly be reused at some future date inside NASA’s new Heavy Lift rocket, dubbed the SLS or Space Launch System.
Following the forced retirement of the Space Shuttle Program for lack of money after the STS-135 mission in July 2011, all three orbiters were cleansed and purged of toxic contaminants in preparation for their final assignment as museum pieces.
The orbiters had a lot of usable life left in them, having flown barely a third of the 100 mission design lifetime.
Discovery was the first orbiter to leave the Kennedy Space Center. On April 17, Discovery was flown atop a modified Boeing 747 jumbo Jet to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington, DC. Discovery was towed inside the museum on April 19 and placed on permanent public display.
Since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program, the US has had absolutely zero capability to send astronauts or cargo to the International Space Station. For at least another 4 or 5 years, the US will be completely reliant on the Russians to ferry American astronauts to the ISS until around 2016 or 2017 when NASA’s hopes that one or more of the privately developed commercial “space taxis” will be ready to launch.
Devastating and continuous cuts to NASA’s budget by visionless politicians in Washington, DC have forced repeated delays to the initial launch of the commercial crew spacecraft- such as the SpaceX Dragon.
To be one of the last humans on Earth present as an eyewitness to the historic last power up of the last living shuttle – Endeavour – while standing immersed inside the astronauts flight deck and experience what are truly the final days of NASA’s 30 year long Space Shuttle Program was simultaneously humbling, thrilling beyond words and incredibly sad – for all the missions that might yet have been and the Exploration and Discovery that’s yet to be accomplished on the High Frontier.