Under a clear May morning sky, the space shuttle Endeavor launched for the final time. Soaring upward at shortly after 9 AM, the shuttle made a perfect launch for the crowd of excited onlookers, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, wounded wife of Commander Mark Kelly. Giffords, along with the family members of other Endeavor astronauts, her mother and a nurse, watched the Endeavor create a flame-streaked Texas sky from the roof of the Kennedy Space Center launch center on May 16, 2011.
The crew of six spent part of yesterday with their families. For Giffords and Kelly, that meant a traditional exchange of wedding rings for the duration of the flight, which was expected to take 16 days. The crew was then hustled off to bed at midnight Sunday, only to be awakened at 4 AM Monday for pre-flight preparation. The early wake-up call song was one chosen by Giffords, but which remain a secret, according to Giffords Chief of Staff. Giffords also hand-wrote a note to her husband, which was hidden aboard the Endeavor for him to find during the flight.
Kelly, for his part, had his brother Scott deliver red roses to GIffords and to his daughters. He gave his wedding band to a friend, who promised to put it on a chain for GIffords, since it is far too large for her fingers.
The launch is the final flight for the Endeavor, which was commissioned in1973. It has flown a total of 25 flights in its 38 year history. This mission will feature four space walks, a trip to the International Space Station and the delivery and installation of a device that might just find the origins of the universe. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) is a module that will measure cosmic rays, searching for unusual activity, dark matter (believed to exist because of otherwise unexplainable differences in the measurements of other matter and background radiation, and for antimatter. The physics experiment was produced by the Air Force Academy and was nicknamed ‘Canary’.
The US space shuttle program will be retired after the next shuttle launch, the last, scheduled for early in July, when the Aquarius will deliver supplies and equipment to the International Space Station.