Pictured clockwise in the STS-134 crew portrait are NASA astronauts Mark Kelly (bottom center), commander; Gregory H. Johnson, pilot; Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency’s Roberto Vittori, all mission specialists.
updated 4/28/2011 12:55:07 PM ET 2011-04-28T16:55:07

A team of six veteran astronauts, led by commander Mark Kelly, are gearing up to ride the space shuttle Endeavour on its last trip to orbit this week.

Endeavour is slated to launch on a two-week sojourn to the International Space Station on Friday at 3:47 p.m. EDT from NASA's Kennedy Space Center here. The shuttle will deliver spare parts and a $2 billion astrophysics experiment called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the orbiting laboratory.

The STS-134 crew includes Kelly, pilot Greg H. Johnson, and mission specialists Michael Fincke, Andrew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff, and Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori.

The astronaut twin
Kelly, a veteran of three previous space shuttle missions, will serve as commander on Endeavour's STS-134 mission. He said he was proud to serve on the second-to-last space shuttle mission planned before NASA retires its three-orbiter fleet.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' office
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords with her husband, NASA astronaut Mark Kelly.

"This is the most capable spacecraft that's ever been built and probably will be built for a long period of time," Kelly said in a NASA interview. "And, I think Americans should be proud that we've been able to build such a thing and operate it successfully for such a long period of time."

Kelly is married to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who is recovering from being shot outside a Tucson grocery store in January while meeting with constituents. Giffords has reportedly recovered well enough to attend her husband's launch in person on Friday from the seaside spaceport in Florida.

Kelly and Giffords met in 2003 at a young leaders' conference in China and became friends before kindling their romance. The couple married in 2007 at an organic produce farm in Amado, Ariz.

Kelly is an identical twin. His brother, Scott Kelly, also is a NASA astronaut, and returned in March from a six-month stint aboard the International Space Station.

The brothers are from West Orange, N.J.; both are captains in the U.S. Navy. Both were selected as astronaut candidates for NASA in April 1996.

Mark Kelly has two children from a previous marriage.

The pilot
STS-134 will be Johnson's second turn as a space shuttle pilot. Previously, he served on the March 2008 STS-132 mission of Endeavour.

Astronaut Gregory H. Johnson, pilot.

"My first date was with Endeavour, and my last date is going to be with Endeavour, as far as space shuttles are concerned," Johnson told "Endeavour's the newest, cleanest vehicle, my favorite of the fleet, though I love them all. I'm just tickled pink that I'll be on Endeavour's last flight."

Johnson was born in the United Kingdom but raised in various parts of the United States as an Army brat. He graduated from high school in Fairborn, Ohio.

Johnson is a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force. He was selected as an astronaut candidate in June 1998.

Johnson and his wife, Cari, have three children: Matthew, Joseph and Rachel.

The space station veteran
Fincke is from Emsworth, Pa. He is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, and was chosen as an astronaut candidate in April 1996.

Space station commander Michael Fincke.

In May 2002, Fincke served as commander of the second NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO 2) mission, living and working in the Aquarius underwater laboratory near Key Largo, Fla., for seven days.

While Fincke is a veteran of two long-duration missions to the International Space Station — one in 2004 and one in 2008-2009 — he has never ridden aboard a space shuttle. His two previous spaceflights were made on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

"It is definitely ironic," Fincke said of the fact that his first trip on a space shuttle turns out to be Endeavour's last.

"It's a little bit sad, because this era's coming to an end, just when it seems the space shuttle is in its prime, it can do anything," Fincke said. "It has such a great historic amazing record. But I'm looking forward to the future."

Fincke and his wife, Renita, have three children.

Italy's astronaut colonel
Vittori was born in Viterbo, Italy. He has master's degrees in aeronautical sciences and in physics, and is a colonel in the Italian Air Force.

He was chosen as a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut through the Italian Space Agency in July 1998.

Vittori has flown twice to the International Space Station on Soyuz spacecraft. Endeavour's flight will be his first trip on a space shuttle.

"This is not my first spaceflight opportunity, but each spaceflight is unique," Vittori told "How I will interact with the specifics of the shuttle in space — that is unknown."

ESA is one of five partners in the International Space Station; the others are the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada. As part of the agreement between the space agencies, ESA receives rides for its astronauts aboard Russian and American spacecraft in exchange for other contributions to the station, such as the European-built Columbus module that houses science experiments.

"The space program started as a competition," Vittori said. "Now it's a cooperation. It's an unbelievable feeling flying in space in the International Space Station when you go from the Russian side to the NASA side. The perception is very clear. It's like flying from one world to the other."

The Hubble repairman
Feustel will be making his second trip to space aboard Endeavour. Previously he flew on the shuttle Atlantis' STS-125 flight in May 2009, which rendezvoused with the Hubble Space Telescope to upgrade it with new instruments, batteries and other equipment.

Astronaut Andrew Feustel.

Feustel said he was proud to participate in two science-oriented missions, since the main goal of Endeavour's STS-134 trip is to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, an experiment to search for fundamental subatomic particles that hopes to shed light on mysteries such as the invisible dark matter thought to make up much of our universe.

"It's a very significant external science payload that hopefully will be up there for the next 10 years operating and collecting data," Feustel said. "It's important and hopefully it will lead the way for other significant science experiments like it to live on the station."

Feustel has a doctorate in geophysics, and was selected as an astronaut candidate for NASA in July 2000. He and his wife, Indira, have two sons.

The spacewalk rookie
Chamitoff will be making his second space shuttle voyage. He previously launched aboard the STS-124 mission of Discovery, served about six months on the International Space Station, and then landed on the STS-126 flight of Endeavour in November 2008.

Astronaut Greg Chamitoff.

During Endeavour's upcoming STS-134 mission, Chamitoff plans to conduct the first spacewalks of his career.

"I'm very excited," Chamitoff said of the chance to float outside the space station. "That whole time I was up there prior, I was hoping for a chance to go outside and it never came up. We were ready for it the whole time."

Chamitoff has a doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics. In his doctoral thesis, he developed a new approach for intelligent flight control of hypersonic vehicles.

NASA chose Chamitoff as an astronaut candidate in 1998. In 2002, he served on the undersea NEEMO-3 Mission for nine days.

He and his wife, Chantal, have two children.

You can follow senior writer Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz.Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Photos: The life of space shuttle Endeavour

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  1. Special delivery

    Endeavour was the last space shuttle to join NASA's fleet: It was built to replace the shuttle Challenger, which was lost in an explosion shortly after launch in 1986. This view shows Endeavour perched atop a modified Boeing 747 on May 2, 1991, beginning the ferry flight from Palmdale, Calif. - where the shuttle was built - to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. First liftoff

    Endeavour lifts off from Launch Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on May 7, 1992, beginning its first mission. The STS-49 mission's primary task was the repair of the Intelsat VI telecommunications satellite. Endeavour was the only shuttle to make its maiden flight from Pad 39B. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Grab that satellite!

    Endeavour astronauts Richard Hieb, Thomas Akers and Pierre Thuot hold onto the 4.5-ton Intelsat VI satellite after making a six-handed "capture" on May 13, 1992. The satellite failed to rise above low Earth orbit when it was launched in 1990. During Endeavour's maiden mission, astronauts retrieved the satellite, attached it to a new upper-stage booster and relaunched it to its intended geosynchronous orbit. This mission marked the first time that three people from the same spacecraft walked in space at the same time. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Science in space

    Endeavour astronauts Jan Davis, left, and Mae Jemison prepare to deploy the lower body negative pressure apparatus on Sept. 15, 1992. Scientific research was the main focus of this Spacelab-J mission, also known as STS-47. The mission's crew included the first African-American woman to fly in space (Mae Jemison) and the only husband-and-wife team to go into space together (Jan Davis and Mark Lee). (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fixing Hubble

    Astronauts flew on Endeavour to take on the first Hubble servicing mission in December 1993. In this picture, spacewalkers Story Musgrave and Jeffrey Hoffman perform an orbital ballet. The coastline of western Australia is visible below. The complex and highly successful repair mission allowed Hubble, which was launched with a defective mirror, to see into the universe with unprecedented clarity. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Building the station

    Endeavour spacewalker Jim Newman holds onto the International Space Station's Unity connecting module as he removes covers and works on connecting cables on Dec. 7, 1998. The STS-88 flight marked the shuttle fleet's first space station assembly mission. (AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Erroneous endeavor

    The shuttle Endeavour sits on its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 11, 2007. "Endeavor" is spelled incorrectly on the banner. The shuttle was named after the HMS Endeavour, the British sailing ship that carried Captain James Cook on his first voyage of discovery from 1768 to 1771. That's why Endeavour reflects the British spelling of the word. (Eliot J. Schechter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Spacewalkers at work

    During the first spacewalk of the STS-118 mission, on Aug. 11, 2007, astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Canada's Dave Williams (out of frame) attach a new segment of the International Space Station's truss and retract a collapsible radiator. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Class portrait

    The crew members of Endeavour's STS-118 crew pose for their official portrait on Aug. 8, 2007. From left are Rick Mastracchio, Barbara Morgan, pilot Charles Hobaugh, mission commander Scott Kelly, Tracy Caldwell, Canadian astronaut Dave Williams and Alvin Drew. During this flight, Morgan became the first educator astronaut to go into orbit. In 1986, she was the backup for Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire teacher who died in the Challenger explosion. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Great view

    Endeavour spacewalker Rick Mastracchio relocates communications equipment on the International Space Station during an outing on Aug. 15, 2007. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A gouge in the tiles

    Tiles on the underside of the space shuttle Endeavour show evidence of damage in a photo taken on Aug. 12, 2007, using the shuttle's robotic arm and a camera-tipped extension boom. The close-up imagery helped mission managers determine that the gouge would pose no threat during Endeavour's atmospheric re-entry. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Eye of the hurricane

    Crew members aboard the shuttle Endeavour captured this picture of Hurricane Dean's eye in the Caribbean on Aug. 18, 2007. The STS-118 mission ended on Aug. 21, one day earlier than planned, to avoid potential complications due to the storm. Forecasters worried that Hurricane Dean could have swept over Houston around the time of landing - but in the end, the storm took a different course. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. In control

    NASA Administrator Michael Griffin watches the liftoff of the space shuttle Endeavour from the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 14, 2008. The STS-126 mission delivered two spare bedrooms as well as a second kitchen and bathroom to the International Space Station. (Bill Ingalls / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Repairs at the pad

    Workers perform repairs on the shuttle Endeavour's external fuel tank at the Kennedy Space Center launch pad on June 14, 2009. The launch team detected a leak of hydrogen fuel from the tank, forcing a delay in Endeavour's STS-127 launch. The mission's main task was the delivery of the final segment of Japan's Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station. (Tim Jacobs / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Lightning strikes

    A giant bolt of lightning hits Endeavour's Florida launch pad on July 10, 2009. Technical problems and severe weather forced five delays in Endeavour's STS-127 launch. (Gene Blevins / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Liftoff at last!

    The space shuttle Endeavour rises from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A on July 15, 2009, on the STS-127 mission's sixth launch attempt. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Parting glance

    The space shuttle Endeavour is photographed from the International Space Station soon after its departure on July 28, 2009. A Soyuz spacecraft docked at the station is visible in the foreground. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Twilight of the shuttle

    The shuttle Endeavour is silhouetted against different layers of the sunlit atmosphere during its approach to the International Space Station on Feb. 9, 2010. The primary payloads for Endeavour's STS-130 mission were the Tranquility module and the Cupola observation deck and control station. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Check out this view!

    Astronaut George Zamka, Endeavour's commander for the STS-130 mission, peeks out a window of the International Space Station's newly installed Cupola observation deck on Feb. 19, 2010. The Cupola provides an unparalleled view of Earth below. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Tanks for the memories

    The external fuel tank for Endeavour's final mission, STS-134, is transported to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 14, 2010. STS-134's main payload is the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, an international physics experiment. (John Raoux / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The view from above

    The space shuttle Endeavour is lowered into place for attachment to its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 1, 2011. (NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Greeting the day

    The sun rises as photographers gather on a hill to take pictures shortly after the shuttle Endeavour's arrival at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A on March 11, 2011. (Roberto Gonzalez / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Into the clouds

    Photographers track the space shuttle Endeavour's ascent as it pierces the clouds and disappears after launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 16. (Craig Rubadoux / Daytona Beach News-Journal via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Godspeed, Endeavour!

    Spectators react as the space shuttle Endeavour lifts off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 16. Hundreds of thousands of people watched the start of the next-to-last space shuttle flight. (Scott Audette / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Above the clouds

    Stefanie Gordon captured this remarkable picture of the space shuttle Endeavour rising above Florida's cloud cover on May 16 while she was on a commercial flight from New York to Palm Beach, Fla. (Stefanie Gordon / for Back to slideshow navigation
  26. The last spacewalk

    NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff holds a handrail during the fourth and last spacewalk conducted by the shuttle Endeavour's crew at the International Space Station on May 27. Chamitoff and astronaut Michael Fincke (visible in the reflections from Chamitoff's helmet visor) transferred an inspection boom system, completing U.S. assembly of the station. The May 27 outing marked the last scheduled spacewalk to be conducted by a space shuttle crew. (Nasa T.V. via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Night passage

    Backdropped by a nighttime view of Earth and the starry sky, the space shuttle Endeavour is seen docked to the International Space Station on May 28. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Landing in the dark

    The space shuttle Endeavour lands for the last time at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 1, 2011. The touchdown capped Endeavour's 16-day mission to deliver a $2 billion science experiment to the International Space Station on NASA's next-to-last shuttle flight. (Joe Skipper / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Blastoff into history

    A NASA poster pays tribute to Endeavour and its space missions over the past two decades. The shuttle is shown rising to orbit, with patches for each of its missions laid out in a spiral. The HMS Endeavour, which inspired the spaceship's name, is shown at lower right. At upper left, pictures of Endeavour are framed in the windows of the Cupola. The background image depicts the nebula NGC 602 as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope, which was first serviced by Endeavour in 1993. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
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