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Shuttle Endeavour lifts off. End of an era?

April 29, 2011 - UNITED STATES

NASA Shuttle Endeavour (STS-134) lifts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on 29 Apr, its last mission, 30 years after the shuttle program started: STS 1 lifted off on 12 Apr 1981. The final shuttle mission, set for June, passes to Atlantis. Astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of the United States Congress member who was gunned down in January, will command the flight. He expects his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, to have recovered enough to watch the launch. The White House has scrapped the shuttle successor, Project Constellation, in favor of commercial space flight. The decision, if not reversed, spells the end of NASA manned space flight after 50 years.

NASA Shuttle Endeavour (STS-134) lifts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on 29 Apr, 30 years after the shuttle program started: STS 1 lifted off on 12 Apr 1981. The date of the final shuttle mission is still up in the air -- shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis might not be mothballed in 2011 after all. Astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of the United States Congress lawmaker who was gunned down in January, will command the flight. He expects his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, to have recovered enough to watch the launch. ; NASA is considering a plan to keep the space shuttle Endeavour and Atlantis in flight-like condition for transformation into privatized spaceships rather than museum pieces. The proposal, if adopted would keep the venerable ships in operation until 2017. The White House scrapped the shuttle successor, Project Constellation, in favor of commercial space flight. Project Constellation was aimed at taking Americans to the Moon. The present plan, which envisions the development of a fleet of commercial 'space taxis'; to take astronauts to the ISS, is controversial and might end up being modified because NASA and the Constellation program have powerful friends, particularly in the states where components for the rocket and crew capsule are manufactured. Orbital Sciences and SpaceX hold milestone-driven multi-billion-dollar contracts to deliver cargo to the ISS, and five companies have been awarded stimulus-package funding to develop commercial crew transport technology. Kelly's crewmates are: pilot Gregory Johnson, Hubble veteran Andrew Feustel, European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori, and station veterans Gregory Chamitoff and Mike Fincke. STS-134, a spacewalking mission, will deliver a particle physics experiment to the International Space Station. The launch plan slipped because delivery of vital payload components is behind schedule. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer carried by Endeavour will search for evidence of dark matter. Giffords was shot in the head by a gunman at an Arizona shopping center. She is undergoing speech and physical therapy. A Democrat, she chaired the House subcommittee that oversees NASA until Republicans took control of the House in January. She is a strong supporter of human spaceflight and married Kelly in 2007. (UPDATED MAR 2011)

NASA Weighs Plan to Keep Shuttle Until 2017 (NBC 5 Feb 2011)

NASA's cloudy future (The Atlantic 7 Jul 2010)

Shuttle schedule slips into 2011 (BBC 2 Jul 2010)

NASA

Mark Kelly will be aboard Endeavour for final mission(LA Times 4 Feb 2011)

Date written/update: 2011-04-29