Endeavour lands for the final Time
Space Shuttle Endeavour landed at the Shuttle Landing Facility of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on time at 2:34 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, June 1, 2011. The Orbiter returned after completing a successful 16-day mission to the International Space Station.
Landing activities began when the crew woke up at 5:56 p.m. EDT yesterday to begin Flight Day 17, their final day in orbit. They performed their normal post-sleep routine before starting the deorbit timeline 4 hours prior to the planned Deorbit Burn. Space Shuttle Endeavour was turned from an orbiting spacecraft to a re-entry and landing vehicle. The Payload Bay Doors were closed on time at 10:49 p.m. EDT and the onboard computers were put into an entry mode shortly after. The team donned their orange Launch&Entry Suits after they had installed the seats they used during entry and landing. Mission Control was able to give a GO for the Deorbit Burn because there were no technical issues at all and the weather cooperated as well. The weather models were increasingly improving over the last 24 hours removing a crosswind concern that the Spaceflight Meteorology Group monitored for the past few days. A low pressure zone just to the north-east began closing in on the Kennedy Space Center late last night which added some excitement to all landing operations. It became clear very soon that this zone of dynamic weather would not reach the Shuttle Landing Facility for the first landing attempt and Meteorologists gave a GO to proceed with deorbit procedures. The deorbit burn occurred at 1:29 a.m. today. That was a 2-minute and 38-second firing of both Orbital Maneuvering System Engines that slowed down Endeavour and allowed the Vehicle to drop out of Orbit on a planned path. The Shuttle began feeling the first traces of the Earth’s atmosphere just after 2 a.m. and made its way to the KSC. During Entry, all systems performed flawlessly. Endeavour completed several roll maneuvers to bleed off speed to target an exact landing energy level. At 2:25 a.m. EDT, the Orbiter reached the coastline of Florida and transitioned to a landing mode. When the speed dropped below Mach 1, Commander Kelly switched to manual control and began a 245-Degree left hand turn to align the Spacecraft with the Runway. While that turn was made, Pilot Greg Johnson took over control for a brief moment getting his chance to fly Endeavour during her final minutes as active Space Shuttle Orbiter. Commander Kelly put the Shuttle on the Runway in perfect fashion with Main Gear Touchdown occurring at 2:34:51 a.m. EDT and Nose Gear Touchdown at 2:35:04 a.m. EDT . Endeavour rolled out on Runway 15 of the Shuttle Landing Facility and came to a final stop at 2:35:36 a.m. EDT. Endeavour's final mission had a duration of 15 days, 17 hours, 38 minutes and 51 seconds. The crew immediately went through initial safing operations. The Orbiter’s Auxiliary Power Units were shut down and ground personnel ensured that the vehicle was not releasing any toxic fumes. Ground convoy vehicles moved to position around the Shuttle and Orbiter cooling and electrical power supplies were set up.
Crew egress began just after that and Astronaut Support Personnel was placed in the cockpit for any additional configurations. The crew took the opportunity to walk around their spacecraft and say a few words in front of it. Mark Kelly expressed that Endeavour was looking ready to do another mission and thanked all the teams that supported the STS-134 mission before departing the Runway with his crew to the Operations and Checkout Building for medical exams and a well deserved break.
Endeavour launched on May 16 after multiple delays due to a conflict with a Russian Resupply Spacecraft and technical issues. Endeavour docked to the ISS on May 18 to begin a docked mission of 11 days and 17 hours. STS-134 delivered several payloads to the ISS. One of those was the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a state of the art particle detector, that is expected to answer fundamental questions about the origin of the universe and its composition. Endeavour also brought ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 3 to the ISS. ELC-3 is a platform that has various external spare parts mounted on it. These parts will be essential to maintain the Space Station’s life when the Space Shuttle fleet will have retired. STS-134 left its inspection boom on the ISS to allow it to be grappled by the Station’s robotic arm to extend the reach of that arm for future ISS operations. That ISS Boom Assembly, as it’s called now, was the final US past to be brought to ISS. Internal Payloads were also delivered to the Space Station. The crew completed moret han 30 hours of transfer operations to get all payloads to the correct sides of the hatches because Endeavour brought several scientific payloads back to Earth as well. Endeavour undocked from the ISS on Monday.
The mission featured four spacewalks by Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff. All EVA Objectives were completed but one. The Spacewalkers did maintenance tasks on the outside of the ISS, installed new parts and secured the Orbiter Boom Sensor System to the Truss Segment of the ISS. They also retrieved a material science experiment and installed a similar experiment on the Station that was brought up on Endeavour. Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff, the two crewmembers that had previous ISS experience from long duration flights, completed repairs to the Station’s environmental systems and were able to free up some space on the Space Station Astronauts' timelines.
Space Shuttle Endeavour performed very well throughout the mission, only a few notable problems occurred. The crew had to perform a focused inspection because of damage on the Thermal Protection System of the vehicle that was discovered by using photos from the traditional backflip the Shuttle performs just before docking. This damaged area was measured very carefully and eventually cleared for entry. Other problems included several sensor failures that had no mission impact at all. The team had a small fight with their on board printer for the first few days of the mission because it wasn’t printing the daily messages in a correct order. Some communication difficulties were also reported over the course of the mission, but these were only limited to one faulty component and weren’t of any concern to the team.
All in all, Endeavour’s final mission was very successful and left the ISS in very good shape for years to come. AMS-2 is already returning more data than teams expected.
Meanwhile at the Kennedy Space Center, Space Shuttle Atlantis rolled out to Pad 39A marking the final Rollout of the Space Shuttle Program. First motion was at 8:42 p.m. EDT on Tuesday and the 3.2-mile move concluded with hard-down at the Pad at 3:29 a.m. on Wednesday about 1 hour after Endeavour had landed. Atlantis is set to begin her final trip to space and the last Space Shuttle Mission STS-135 on July 8, 2011.