Space shuttle Endeavour and its crew of six astronauts shot into space with an on-time, smooth start to their 16-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The weather at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida cooperated for liftoff at 8:56 a.m. The shuttle disappeared into the clouds seconds after liftoff.
The six-person crew is scheduled to arrive at the ISS on Wednesday. Their mission: to deliver a $2 billion magnetic instrument that will collect research data.
Liftoff, At Last!
The launch of Endeavor launch was delayed for more than two weeks from the original launch date because of an electrical issue. Two weeks of repairs took care of the problem.
Nearly 45,000 spectators packed NASA's launch site to watch. Thousands more crowded the surrounding areas to see Endeavour soar into space. This is the shuttle's 25th and final flight. As of liftoff, Endeavour logged more than 116 million miles, circled Earth some 4,500 times, spent 283 days in space and carried 170 people.
So Long, Shuttles
This flight marks the end of an era. NASA is retiring its 30-year-old shuttle program because the U.S. government says the space vehicles are too old and too costly to operate. NASA is planning the last shuttle flight, by Atlantis, for July.
Endeavour will retire to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The rest of the retired shuttles will also be taken to museums for display. This leaves NASA astronauts without a ride of their own. For now, to reach the ISS, they will have to pay to travel aboard Russian spacecraft.
In the meantime, NASA hopes to develop new spaceships that can travel longer distances. Where to next? "We're going to be looking beyond low Earth orbit," John Shannon, manager of NASA's space shuttle program, told TFK. "Out towards the moon, asteroids and, eventually, Mars."