Space Shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to make its final flight into space today. After nearly 20 years in service, and having flown a cumulative distance of 166 million km, this flight marks the 25th and final launch of the Shuttle, after which it will be retired and displayed in a museum in Los Angeles.
Its mission is to deliver the £1.2bn Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the International Space Station (ISS). The AMS will search for cosmic rays, which are ultra-high energy particles that bombard the Earth from all corners of the Universe. It will hunt for dark matter, anti-matter, and strange matter. These charged particles have not been measured systematically over a lengthy period, which the AMS can do, so the results it brings in will be both new and fascinating.
The launch is scheduled for 3.47pm EDT, 8.47pm BST. There was some concern that the launch may be pushed back due to the lightning storms that occurred Thursday night, but no damage was done to the Shuttle. This launch also marks the last time ever that people in the UK will be able to see a Space Shuttle in the sky with their own eyes. I know I for one am wishing for a clear night tonight! So just after 9pm, look to the sky, and hope. [EDIT: NASA says launch has been scrubbed for at least 48 hours because of an issue with Auxiliary Power Unit 1 heaters.]
NASA has put together a small and informative tribute to Space Shuttle Endeavour, entitled “STS-134: Endeavour’s Final Voyage”, which can be seen below:
Fly safe. Onwards!