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Endeavour Prepares to Fly Home from Final Mission

The Space Shuttle Endeavour is docked to the International Space Station during its final mission to space.
The Space Shuttle Endeavour is docked to the International Space Station during its final mission to space.
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David Byrd

Astronauts on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour are making preparations to return to Earth on the spacecraft’s final flight. One of the astronauts says being in space has shown him the fragility of the Earth’s environment.

Air Force Colonel Gregory Johnson is the shuttle pilot. This is his second mission on Endeavour, and it will be his last space shuttle flight. But he says it has been memorable, especially looking at Earth from the multi-windowed cupola of the International Space Station.

“It’s a wonderful experience to look at our Earth. One of my favorite places on the planet is a place in northern Michigan, Long Lake in Traverse City. And - it chokes me up thinking about it - I flew right over it yesterday and got some great photos of a wonderful place on our planet," he said.

This has been a landmark shuttle mission for Endeavour’s crew. It completed four spacewalks - including the last spacewalk from a U.S. shuttle; It completed the U.S. section of the space station, and astronaut Mike Fincke broke NASA's all-time record for the most time spent in space by an American late Friday (May 27) when he passed the 377-day mark.

The crew also deployed the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a sophisticated instrument that will yield insights into the composition and origins of the universe.  On a personal level, Johnson said the mission helped him realize how fragile Earth’s environment is.

“When you look at the Earth’s horizon and see the thickness of the atmosphere, it’s not even the thickness of an orange peel. And so that fragile atmosphere makes me think greener [environmentally conscious] and do greener things and makes me better understand why it is so important to take care of our planet," he said.

The 49-year-old Johnson says the thing he will miss the most when the mission is over is the chance to fly a space shuttle.  The pilot and mission Commander Mark Kelly will undock Endeavour from the Space Station and point it towards Earth on Sunday.

The shuttle is scheduled for a night landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida early Wednesday. It will later be retired to a museum in California.  The final U.S. space shuttle flight - by Atlantis - is scheduled for liftoff July 8.

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