Space shuttle Endeavour ends 19-year flying career

Updated: 2011-06-01 16:16


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Space shuttle Endeavour ends 19-year flying career
The space shuttle Endeavour lands safely at Kennedy Space Center in this infrared camera image from NASA TV June 1, 2011. The crew members for space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission are Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Gregory H. Johnson and Mission Specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori. [Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON - US space shuttle Endeavour landed safely at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday morning, ending its 19-year flying career.

According to NASA TV, Endeavour touched down at 2:35 a.m. EDT (0635 GMT) after a 16-day service mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Endeavour has traveled 196 million km by flight's end -- on all 25 of its voyages -- and spent 299 days in space. It's the youngest of NASA's shuttle fleet, first flying in 1992 as the replacement for Challenger, which was destroyed shortly after liftoff in 1986, killing its seven crew members.

"122 million miles flown during 25 challenging spaceflights," Mission Control told Endeavour commander Mark Kelly and his crewmates. "Your landing ends a vibrant legacy for this amazing vehicle that will long be remembered. Welcome home, Endeavour."

"It's sad to see her land for the last time, but she really has a great legacy," Kelly replied.

Endeavour blasted off on May 16 from the Kennedy Space Center to deliver to the ISS a 2-billion-dollar, multinational particle detector known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS).

The AMS is designed to search for various types of unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays. Its experiments will help researchers study the formation of the universe and search for evidence of dark matter, strange matter and antimatter.

During their stay at the station, the Endeavour crew conducted four spacewalks to complete construction of the U.S. side of the 100-billion-dollar space station, a project of 16 nations that has been assembled in orbit since 1998.

They also brought up a logistics carrier with spare parts and performed maintenance and installation work during four spacewalks, the last to be carried out by an American shuttle crew.

NASA plans to decommission Endeavour, which will be the second shuttle to be retired; it ultimately will land at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Discovery ended its last voyage in March; its final destination is a Smithsonian Institution hangar outside Washington. Atlantis will remain at Kennedy Space Center as a tourist stop.

NASA's 30-year-old shuttle program is ending due to high operating costs. The Obama administration wants to spur private companies to get into the space taxi business, freeing NASA to focus on deep space exploration and new technology development.

When the U.S. space shuttle program ends later this year, the Russian space program's Soyuz capsule will be the only method for transporting astronauts to and from the ISS.

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