The space shuttle Endeavour, the youngest ship in the fleet of NASA, rose into the sky in the morning to start the final mission of his 19 years.
Endeavour blazed a trail in the sky here at the Kennedy Space Center at 8:56 am EDT (1256 GMT) off the coast launch pad 39A. The shuttle and its crew of six men are destined for the International Space Station, where they will spend 16 days the delivery of replacement supplies and ambitious astrophysics experiment.
“It looks like a great day for the launch of Endeavour last time,” said launch director Mike Leinbach told the crew. “On behalf of thousands of proud Americans who have been part of the voyage, good luck, good luck, you see back here on June 1.”
Endeavour commander Mark Kelly also shared some poignant words just before takeoff.
“As Americans, we strive to build a better life than previous generations and we strive to be a united nation,” said Kelly in the final moments before launch. “In these efforts that have been tested. It is in the DNA of our great country to reach the stars and explore. We must not stop.”
The moment was bittersweet for the thousands of workers at NASA who have dedicated years to the maintenance of the Endeavour orbiter and its two sister. After today, NASA has only one more planned shuttle mission before the shuttles are retired forever.
“Endeavour has had a career quite surprising,” Kelly said after he and his team arrived in Florida for a first launch attempt in April. “It will be the 25th flight of Endeavour, and I and my team are excited to be part of it.”
Trying to launch earlier was canceled when a heater to protect a critical power unit on the shuttle not only hours before departure. Engineers traced the problem back to a power distribution box power for the heater. It replaced the box and about 20 feet of cables connected to it, and carried out extensive testing to ensure that the problem was solved. There were no problems with the system during the launch countdown today.
Kelly is leading a veteran crew of six, including Pilot Gregory H. Johnson and mission specialists Mike Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel, and the European Space Agency, Roberto Vittori, Astronaut.
“I am excited and loaded for this mission!” Johnson wrote on Twitter this morning.