News / USA

Space Shuttle Endeavor Ready for its Last Mission

The STS-134 crew stands together on Launch Pad 39A in front of the towering external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters of space shuttle Endeavour, one day before its final flight, April 28 2011
The STS-134 crew stands together on Launch Pad 39A in front of the towering external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters of space shuttle Endeavour, one day before its final flight, April 28 2011
Greg Flakus

People are flocking to the central Florida coast for Friday's scheduled launch of the space shuttle Endeavour, the second to last launch of a shuttle as NASA brings the three-decade-old program to an end.

The space agency is expecting around 700,000 people to be on hand for the event Friday evening, including US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the wife of shuttle commander Mark Kelly. She is still recovering from a wound to the head suffered in a shooting rampage in her home district in Arizona back in January. Her presence adds special emotional touch to what many regard as a significant moment for the US space program.

As crews prepare the space shuttle for launch at the Kennedy Space Center, Weather Officer Kathy Winters is keeping an eye on the slow-moving front that has worked its way across US southern states in recent days spawning severe thunderstorms and devastating tornadoes.

"We are expecting that to move down into central Florida," said Kathy Winters. "Now, it won't have the energy it has had and it won't be producing the severe weather as widespread as it has been doing the last couple of days, but we do expect that there could be an isolated severe thunderstorm along the front."

She said this concern caused her to move the probability of  a weather-related delay in the launch from 20 percent to 30 percent. NASA officials say a slight delay in fueling the shuttle's external tank would not be a problem and there is a four-hour leeway built into the schedule.

The launch of Endeavor Friday will be a bittersweet event for astronauts, flight crews, space and science enthusiasts as well as those who have followed the progress of Congressswoman Gabrielle Giffords since she was severely wounded nearly four months ago. This launch, commanded by her husband, Mark Kelly, and the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis scheduled for late June will mark the end of an era and the beginning of a new, somewhat uncertain phase for the US space program.

Giffords, who has witnessed two previous launches in which her husband flew, wanted to be present for the start of his final shuttle mission even though she is still healing from her head wound. Doctors who have been working with her at a rehabilitation facility here in Houston approved her trip to Florida. News video shot from a distance Wednesday showed Giffords walking with some assistance to the airplane that took her to Florida. Doctors and therapists will be on hand with her the whole time at the Kennedy Space Center and she will be in a restricted viewing area. President Barack Obama is also scheduled to attend the launch, but NASA has not indicated where he will be.

Endeavour will carry the six-member crew to the International Space station and also carry out a number of experiments on its two-week-long mission, including the testing of three small satellites, each small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. If the experiment carried out as the shuttle travels to the space station is successful it could lead to the development of tiny satellites that could be deployed in space for a small fraction of the cost of deploying a conventional satellite.

The most important part of the mission is the delivery of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 to the International Space Station. It will be used for a study of cosmic rays and is expected to be operational for around 10 years.

As the Endeavour launch was being prepared, NASA held a news conference with representatives of private companies developing their own space vehicles, with the goal of providing transport into space for US astronauts by the middle of this decade.  NASA has awarded more than $269 billion to four private US companies to help them spur development of their technologies.

The chairman of one of the companies, Mark Sirangelo of the Sierra Nevada company, hailed the accomplishments of the US  Space Shuttle program for opening the way for this next phase in space exploration.

"I have heard and I have read many times in the last week about the end of the space shuttle program," said Mark Sirangelo. "From my perspective I do not see it as an end. I see it as the beginning of the next step.  I think space shuttle was a bridge to move forward. Our vehicle is based, in large part, on the successes, on the triumphs, on the challenges, and the pain that has been done in the space shuttle program."

The Colorado-based Sierra Nevada company received $80 million from NASA to develop its Dream Chaser space plane. Other companies with similar vehicles in development  with initial funding  from NASA are Boeing, based in Chicago,  California-based Space Exploration Technologies, or Space X, and Blue Origin, which is based in the northwest US state of Washington.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid