NASA Podcasts

Endeavour's Final Voyage
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MARK KELLY/STS-134 COMMANDER: It's a bittersweet privilege to be taking Endeavour on its last flight, delivering the last major piece to the ISS.

BRUCE MELNICK/STS-41 and STS-49: I was there before we put the wings on it. It was just... So it was almost like it was my baby.

BOB CABANA/DIRECTOR, KENNEDY SPACE CENTER: That space station assembly mission was perfect from start to finish. And a lot of that was Endeavour. It just... phenomenal vehicle.

MICHAEL PARRISH/USA VEHICLE OPERATIONS CHIEF, ENDEAVOUR: The eagle represents the United States of America. It's something that we're proud of. See now, that's our bird. That's the eagle.

After nearly two decades of achievements in space, Endeavour makes one last reach for the stars on its 25th and final mission.

Endeavour is traveling to the International Space Station with six veteran space fliers: Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg H. Johnson, and Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and Roberto Vittori from Italy, representing the European Space Agency.

MARK KELLY/STS-134 COMMANDER: Well, I'm the commander of STS-134. We've got a whole list of mission objectives, probably 30 things on the list, but the big objective is to get the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer installed on the outside of the space station.

The 15,000-pound AMS is a massive particle physics detector that will attach to the International Space Station.

Its job: to search through cosmic rays, looking for proof of dark matter and anti-matter.

GREG CHAMITOFF/STS-134 MISSION SPECIALIST: In my mind this is like the Hubble Space Telescope. It has the same type of potential for revolutionizing our understanding of the universe.

They're also delivering critical spare parts to help keep the station up and running for years to come, along with the shuttle's Orbiter Boom Sensor System.

Feustel, Fincke and Chamitoff will rotate through four spacewalks -- the last performed by shuttle crew members for the remainder of the Space Shuttle Program.

And when Endeavour makes its final touchdown on the runway, it will end a storied flying career for the youngest of NASA's shuttle orbiters.

Even Endeavour's beginnings were unique.

It was built as a replacement for space shuttle Challenger, and named for the first ship commanded by explorer James Cook.

At the time of the Challenger accident, astronaut Barbara Morgan was part of the Teacher in Space Program, serving as back-up to teacher Christa McAuliffe, who launched aboard Challenger on that fateful day in 1986.

BARBARA MORGAN/STS-118 MISSION SPECIALIST: I think Endeavour in particular, because she was named by schoolchildren all over the country, that really shows a carrying on and a moving forward, and how open-ended and never-ending that future can be.

Like all shuttle orbiters before it, Endeavour was built by Rockwell in Palmdale, California.

That's where astronaut Bruce Melnick's bond with Endeavour began.

BRUCE MELNICK/Astronaut, STS-41 and STS-49: My first job as an astronaut, even before I was a qualified astronaut, was to represent the astronaut office out in Palmdale, where Endeavour was being built. So I got to see her being built from scratch to finish, got to see the wings put on, and it's amazing.

The nation's brand-new space shuttle was delivered to Kennedy Space Center on May 7, 1991 -- exactly one year before its maiden flight.

MICHAEL PARRISH/USA VEHICLE OPERATIONS CHIEF, ENDEAVOUR: It was great to see Endeavour come in. We knew why it was coming... because it was replacing Challenger. So it was going to be the new fleet leader and the new kid on the block.

Melnick was on Endeavour's first flight, STS-49. The seven-person crew faced an ambitious, eight-day mission to repair the stranded Intelsat VI satellite.

MELNICK: I'll never forget when Dan Brandenstein, who was the chief astronaut at the time, asked me if I wanted to be on the first flight of Endeavour. I mean, you could hear me hooting and hollering, because that was going to be the premiere mission at the time.

Endeavour made history again during the last shuttle mission of 1993, when seven astronauts upgraded the Hubble Space Telescope -- and improved its vision.

It was an extremely complex flight, involving five back-to-back spacewalks. And in the end, all the hard work paid off.

The telescope's new, second-generation Wide Field and Planetary Camera beamed back grand images taken with dazzling clarity.

And Endeavour helped to carry the load in the construction of the International Space Station -- including the very first shuttle flight to the fledgling outpost, STS-88.

Endeavour delivered the American Unity module, and astronauts connected it to the Russian Zarya module already in place -- and the station was born.

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana commanded that cornerstone flight.

BOB CABANA/DIRECTOR, KENNEDY SPACE CENTER: I have to admit, you know, because I got to command Endeavour on that first space station assembly mission, I'm a little partial to Endeavour.

But less than three years later, the nation was stunned by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

On December 5, all eyes turned to Kennedy Space Center, where Endeavour waited to make the first flight after the tragedy.

DOMINIC GORIE/STS-108 COMMANDER: Mike, first, we'd like to say thank you to the entire KSC team for getting Endeavour in great shape. And secondly, from the entire crew, we're all well aware that for over 200 years, and certainly over the last two months, freedom rings loud and clear across this country. But right here and right now, it's time to let freedom roar. Let's light 'em up.

LAUNCH COMMENTATOR: Two, one... we have booster ignition and liftoff of the space shuttle Endeavour, pushing our goals skyward and using our station in space.

Endeavour lifted the nation's spirits with a spectacular launch... at the twilight's last gleaming.

After two more flights, Endeavour entered an extended down time for planned maintenance and upgrades, including the new "glass cockpit" and a global positioning system for landing.

PARRISH: I think the missions you remember the most are the missions that were the toughest to get there. But we met our goals on the way. You know, we powered up in time after coming out of a major powered-down period, and the major upgrades with the glass cockpit.

The newly upgraded orbiter returned to service in August 2007 on the STS-118 mission.

Morgan flew as a mission specialist and recalls watching an orbital sunrise.

MORGAN: I looked back up at the horizon again, and there was a crescent moon. And it literally seemed, even though you can't, it's not this easy to do, but it literally seemed all we had to do was yank on the tiller, take a right turn, and sail straight to the moon. And that's when I really understood how natural, and how right, space exploration, human space exploration, is. And Endeavour played a big part of that.

STS-134 will be Endeavour's 12th flight to the International Space Station.

One of its most memorable deliveries was its most recent: the cupola, with seven windows offering astronauts a room with a captivating view of their home world.

After 30 years, the shuttle program is coming to a close.

MELNICK: When you look up and you see that vehicle take off the launch pad, I mean, it's just such a sense of pride, and you feel the shockwaves hitting you in the chest, and it just vibrates you, it just brings a tear to your eye that we're a part of that program. And then to see Endeavour go up -- the last ship that I flew, and I was on her maiden voyage, and she treated us so well -- to see her go into space for the last time, knowing that she's going to be retired after this flight, is going to be a real sad day.

PARRISH: The vehicles we see -- every one of the vehicles, including Endeavour, and Discovery, and Atlantis -- they're all part of us. And they all are, you know... they're alive. And they represent each and every one of us that have worked on them.

The close-knit shuttle processing team is adjusting to the shuttle's end, while still maintaining laser-sharp focus on the job.

DANA HUTCHERSON/NASA FLOW DIRECTOR, ENDEAVOUR: Personally, we do have to think about putting our emotions aside. We have our job number one, which is to get this vehicle prepared safely for the mission at hand with the STS-134 launch.

But the toughest moment will be that final wheelstop... when Endeavour returns to Earth for good.

COMMANDER: Houston, Endeavour, wheelstop.

MISSION CONTROL: Roger, wheelstop, Endeavour. Welcome home.

CABANA: I didn't want to get out of the seat! I mean, this was my spaceship! You know, that really, that was hard, getting out -- in fact of all the things I've done, that was hard, getting out of that seat and giving Endeavour back to the team. That was tough.

PARRISH: When Endeavour flies for the last time, it will show respect for everything that we've done for many, many years. We love the shuttle program and we love this vehicle. Any vehicle that flies has to prove it's flightworthy. And Endeavour did that. It's been a great vehicle.

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