Endeavour, mounted securely atop one of NASA’s modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, leaves Dryden at sunrise for Kennedy Space Center, Fla. (NASA Photo by Carla Thomas) › View Larger Image
Space shuttle Endeavour will make one last flight – to its home in California. Its flight won’t be powered by solid rocket boosters for this journey, but as a passenger atop the NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
Its new home will be the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Southern California made major contributions to the shuttle program. Major orbiter components were built at North American Rockwell Space Division in Downey (now The Boeing Co.), with final assembly at Rockwell International Space Systems (which became the Boeing Reusable Space Systems Assembly, Integration and Test Facility) in Palmdale. In addition, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne built the space shuttle main engines at its Canoga Park, Calif., facility.
California contractors had other involvement. For example, the Aeroject Corp. of Sacramento supplied the space shuttle orbital maneuvering system thrusters, and the former Marquardt Corp. of Van Nuys, Calif. supplied the thrusters for the forward reaction control system.
Aside from the 54 landings at Edwards, Dryden’s contributions are highlighted elsewhere in this publication. Endeavour landed at Dryden seven times, the last on Nov. 30, 2008.
Endeavour completed its final mission June 1, 2011, the end of a 16-day journey of more than 6.5 million miles.
Authorized by Congress in August 1987 as a replacement for the orbiter Challenger, Endeavour arrived at Kennedy Space Center’s shuttle landing facility on May 7, 1991, piggy-backed on top of an SCA.
Endeavour marked the first time that an orbiter was named through a national competition involving students in elementary and secondary schools. Students were asked to select a name based upon an exploratory or research sea vessel.
Endeavour was named after a ship chartered to traverse the South Pacific in 1768 and captained by eighteenth century British explorer James Cook, an experienced seaman, navigator and amateur astronomer. He commanded a crew of 93 men, including 11 scientists and artists.
In service to the British Admiralty and the Royal Society, Cook’s main task was to observe the Transit of Venus at Tahiti, which enabled astronomers to determine the distance of the sun from the Earth. That information was used as a unit of measurement in calculating the parameters of the universe. Cook’s achievements on Endeavour included the accurate charting of New Zealand and Australia and successfully navigating the Great Barrier Reef. Thousands of new plant specimens and animal species were observed and illustrated on this maiden voyage. Cook also established the usefulness of including scientists on voyages of exploration.
Endeavour embodies similar experiences. Its first mission, STS-49, began with a flawless liftoff on May 7, 1992, and would be a journey filled with excitement, anticipation and many firsts.
One of Endeavour’s primary assignments was to capture INTELSAT VI, an orbiting but nonfunctioning communications satellite, and replace its rocket motor. The project sparked public interest in the mission and NASA received a deluge of suggestions on potential ways for the crew to catch its prey. It took three attempts to capture the satellite before repairs could be made. An unprecedented three-person spacewalk took place after the astronauts and ground team evaluated the procedure.
Between rescue attempts, the STS-49 crew was busy. They conducted medical tests assessing the human body’s performance in microgravity, and recorded footage for an educational video comparing Cook’s first voyage on Endeavour with the space shuttle orbiter’s maiden voyage.
Once the new motor was attached, it propelled the satellite into the correct orbit, providing a relay link for the equivalent of 120,000 two-way simultaneous telephone calls and three television channels.
Endeavor’s mission marked the first time four spacewalks had been conducted on a space shuttle mission and the first time three people from the same spacecraft walked in space at the same time. One spacewalk, lasting more than eight hours was the longest undertaken to date, a record that stood until Discovery’s STS-102 mission in 2001.
Other Endeavour missions included the first repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, in 1993, on which two corrective components were delivered to improve the telescope’s ability to focus, and delivery of Node 1, the first American component of the International Space Station, in 1998.
Just as James Cook set the standard with his seafaring voyage, more than 200 years later shuttle Endeavour’s missions have continued to uphold and surpass those standards set by its namesake.