Space shuttle Endeavour docked for the final time at the International Space Station carrying six astronauts and the long-anticipated Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a physics experiment that will hunt for dark matter and antimatter. The docking occured at 1014 GMT, and the hatches between the two vehicles opened at 1138 GMT (7:38 am Eastern time), about an hour earlier than scheduled.
Above, watch as space shuttle Endeavour performs the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, or “backflip” so that the ISS crew can take high resolution pictures of the shuttle’s heat shield. Commander Mark Kelly rotated Endeavour to rotate 360 degrees backward.
The combined crews total 12 now on the ISS, but only until May 23, when space station crew members Dmitry Kondratyev, Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli undock in a Soyuz and return home to Earth. Unlike most shuttle missions to the ISS, the two crews are working in staggered shifts instead of being on the same timeline. This is because of the two-week launch delay for Endeavour making the mission, unfortunately, causing the mission to overlap with the departure of the station crew members. The three leaving the ISS need to adjust their sleep cycle to synch up with the landing day timeline.
The shuttle will remain at the station until May 30, with landing scheduled currently for June 1.
The STS-134 mission includes four spacewalks, in part to install the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a two-billion-dollar, 15,000 pound (7,000 kilogram) particle detector that will hopefully operate for a decade and provide new details about the origins of the Universe.
The mission is commanded by astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who is recovering after being shot in the head in January. Giffords reportedly will undergo intensive cranioplasty brain surgery in Houston this morning (May 18), just three days after attending the launch.