Video: Space shuttle Endeavour lifts off for last time

  1. Closed captioning of: Space shuttle Endeavour lifts off for last time

    >> center after a two-week delay, the space shuttle "endeavour" took off for the last time with mark kelly in the commander's seat and his wounded wife watching on the ground. tom costello is at the kennedy space center tonight. good evening.

    >> reporter: a windy one at that. gabby giffords ' staff said she's still not fully aware of everything that happened in tucson in january, but she's very aware of her husband's mission and she was determined to be here for it.

    >> three, two, one. zero, and liftoff for the final launch of "endeavour."

    >> in typically spectacular fashion, it roared off the pad just past 10:00 , breaking through cloud cover and racing for a rendezvous with the space station . these dramatic photos taking by a passenger in a commercial plane in the air at the time. waunching the launch from a private viewing area at the cape, shuttle commander mark kelly 's wife, gabby giffords , still recovering from a head wound suffering in january's shooting rampage in tucson. her chief of staff was with her.

    >> she turned to me said and, good stuff. i said, yeah, this is good stuff. this is like, finally, we have arrived at his launch date.

    >> reporter: moments before liftoff, he spoke to the millions cheering on his crew.

    >> including our spouses, children, family and friends, we thank you for your support.

    >> reporter: once the shuttle was in orbit, mark kelly delivered tulips to giffords on behalf of mark and roses to his two daughters. meanwhile, he sent a handwritten note to be read by giffords when he was in space.

    >> the fact that gabby was able to come down here speaks to the triumph of good over evil. and just her resilience and her dedication and motivation is an example that the country ought to try to follow.

    >> reporter: "endeavour's" 24th miz will deliver spare parts to the space station . on the nearby roads and beaches, half a million spectators gathered to witness "endeavour's" final mission and a story of love, dedication, and triumph. sxoo every one of the crew members on board is wearing one of these in space. it's a bracelet that says peace, love, and gabby. and mark kelly has taken into space gabby's wedding ring , and she has his on earth. and finally tonight, brian, an update from gabby giffords ' staff. her next major medical hurdle will be to replace a portion of the skull that was taken off in january during the tragedy. back to you.

    >> beautiful evening down at the

By Alan Boyle Science editor
msnbc.com
updated 5/16/2011 11:15:10 AM ET 2011-05-16T15:15:10

Six astronauts rode the space shuttle Endeavour into space for the last time on Monday as a wounded congresswoman and hundreds of thousands of others watched.

Endeavour rose on a pillar of flame and quickly disappeared into Florida's cloudy morning skies. Two weeks earlier, an electronics glitch spoiled the previous launch attempt, but Monday's countdown was mostly trouble-free.

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"Looks like a good day to launch Endeavour for a final time," launch director Mike Leinbach told the crew's commander, Mark Kelly, just before liftoff.

In response, Kelly thanked Leinbach and the rest of the launch team, and suggested that NASA's role in exploration should continue after the shuttle program's end. "It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore," he said. "We must not stop."

The shuttle is due to link up with the International Space Station on Wednesday. "Godspeed, Endeavour. We're ready for you," NASA astronaut Ron Garan said in a Twitter update from the International Space Station.

Endeavour's 16-day mission to the space station, known as STS-134, is notable for several reasons — including its status as the second-to-last scheduled flight for the 30-year-long space shuttle program as well as its planned delivery of a $2 billion particle-physics experiment.

But there's a big personal angle as well: Kelly's wife is U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat who suffered a life-threatening head wound during a mass shooting in Tucson in January. The prospect of attending this launch served as a therapeutic goal for Giffords, who has spent much of the past four months at a Houston rehabilitation center.

Godspeed from Giffords
Giffords attended Endeavour's first launch attempt on April 29, and came back to the Cape for Monday's launch. Her staff reported that she said goodbye to her husband during a beach-house gathering on Sunday afternoon.

Giffords' chief of staff, Pia Carusone, told NBC's TODAY show that the congresswoman was "really excited" to see Kelly blast off and was "obviously happy she was able to make it."

"It's a good day for everyone here," Carusone said.

Giffords and Kelly traded their wedding rings for the mission, and all six of Endeavour's astronauts are carrying "Peace-Love-Gabby" bracelets in Giffords' honor.

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The congresswoman did not appear in public or meet the press during her visit, due to her medical condition as well as the more general privacy concerns for the Endeavour crew's families. However, her staff did report her reaction to the launch.

"Good stuff, good stuff," Carusone quoted Giffords as saying.

Huge turnout ... with some no-shows
NASA expected up to 500,000 people to turn out for Monday's liftoff — which is more than the usual crowd for a shuttle launch, but less than the 750,000 that was projected two weeks ago for the initial attempt. Vehicles lined the roads surrounding the space center; however, traffic reports indicated that the Monday morning tie-up was not as bad as some had feared. Titusville Assistant Police Chief John Lau gave The Associated Press an estimate of 350,000 to 400,000 spectators.

One would-be spectator who didn't return is President Barack Obama. He and his family took a quick tour of Kennedy Space Center on April 29 but missed out on the big event. First Lady Michelle Obama said witnessing a launch in person was "a priority" — which means she has just one chance left.

Monday's smooth countdown came in contrast to last month's launch attempt, which was scrubbed due to a glitch that affected the heaters in one of the orbiter's auxiliary power units. The shuttle's three APUs provide hydraulic power for the aerodynamic flight control system, and all of them have to be in working order to proceed to launch.

Over the past two weeks, launch-pad workers traced the problem to a blown circuit in a switch box, replaced the entire box, and double-checked the electronics in the box as well as the wiring attached to the box. The problem did not reappear during Monday's countdown.

After the crew took their seats in the orbiter, the close-out crew reported minor damage to a tile area around the shuttle's crew hatch, but the ding was quickly patched.

During Endeavour's ascent to orbit, several pieces of foam were seen coming off the external fuel tank, which had been extensively repaired after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for spaceflight operations, told reporters that the flying foam did not appear to damage the orbiter. Nevertheless, Endeavour's protective skin will undergo a detailed examination on Tuesday.

Milestone mission for science and shuttle program
Endeavour's final spaceflight looms as one of the most important science missions of the 30-year space shuttle program.

The shuttle is loaded up with nearly 15 tons of supplies and equipment, highlighted by the 7.5-ton Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which will be attached to the space station's exterior during a robotic arm operation. Once it's installed, the $2 billion particle detector will almost immediately start sending down data about cosmic rays.

Physicists from 16 nations have worked for 17 years to build the AMS, and for a while it looked as if all that effort would be wasted. Fortunately, Congress and NASA worked together to get the van-sized device on this mission. Over the next decade or longer, physicists hope that findings from the AMS will shed light on the mysteries surrounding the nature of dark matter, and the balance of matter and antimatter in the universe.

Endeavour's payload also includes a platform loaded with spare parts for the station, as well as communication equipment and a wide range of scientific experiments.

Shuttle program's last spacewalks
Four spacewalks are to be conducted during the shuttle's visit, marking the last scheduled outings by shuttle astronauts at the space station. The spacewalkers are to install equipment, do electrical work and conduct maintenance on the station's cooling system and robotic arm.

In addition to Kelly, the all-male, all-veteran crew includes pilot Greg Johnson, spacewalkers Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff, and Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori.

This mission will feature the first-ever departure of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft while a shuttle is docked to the International Space Station. NASA's Cady Coleman, Russia's Dmitri Kondratyev and Italy's Paolo Nespoli are due to leave the station and head back down to Earth on May 23.

Mission planners shuffled the schedules of the station and shuttle astronauts to accommodate the trio's departure. As a result, the two crews will be working separate shifts.

After Endeavour's return to Earth, the shuttle will be prepared as a museum piece for the California Science Center in Los Angeles. NASA has scheduled only one more shuttle flight to the station, to be taken on by Atlantis no earlier than mid-July.

When the shuttles retire, NASA will have to depend on Russian, European and Japanese transports to get supplies to the space station — at least until next year, when U.S. commercial cargo flights are due to begin. NASA hopes that commercial crew transports will become available starting in the middle of this decade.

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Interactive: Endeavor's final mission

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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 msnbc.com) 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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