CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The space shuttle Endeavour, the youngest orbiter in NASA’s fleet, soared into the morning sky Monday to begin the final mission of its 19-year career.
Endeavour blazed a path through the sky here at the Kennedy Space Center at 8:56 a.m. EDT (1256 GMT), lifting off from the seaside Launch Pad 39A.
“It was a fantastic launch, a really great day for us,” shuttle mission management team chair Mike Moses said after the launch. “We’re happy to be in orbit.”
The shuttle and its six-man crew are bound for the International Space Station, where they will spend 16 days delivering spare supplies and an ambitious astrophysics experiment.
“As Americans, we endeavor to build a better life than the generation before and we endeavor to be a united nation,” Kelly said in the final moments at the launch pad. “In these efforts we are often tested. It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore. We must not stop.”
The moment was bittersweet for the thousands of NASA workers who have devoted years to the maintenance of Endeavour and its two sister orbiters. After today, NASA has only one more shuttle mission planned before the shuttles are retired for good.
“Endeavour has had a pretty amazing career,” Kelly said after he and his crew arrived in Florida for a first launch attempt in April. “It’s going to be Endeavour’s 25th flight, and me and my crew are excited to be a part of it.”
That earlier launch try was called off when a heater used to protect a critical power unit on the shuttle failed just hours before liftoff. Engineers traced the problem back to a switchbox feeding power to the heater. They replaced the box and about 20 feet of wiring connected to it, and conducted thorough tests to make sure the problem was resolved. There were no issues with the system during today’s launch countdown.
Kelly is leading a veteran crew of six, including pilot Gregory H. Johnson and mission specialists Mike Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel, and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.