Friday, September 21, 2012

Endeavour's Last Adventure

Endeavour's first launch in 1992
image credit: NASA
In today's post I'd like to tell you about a little piece of history that I witnessed yesterday and although it seems like this has nothing to do with CANDELS, let me tell you otherwise. 

Yesterday, the space shuttle Endeavour flew piggyback on a special Boeing 747 over Tucson, AZ, at a height of about only 1500 feet (yes, that's pretty low!). This fly-by is one of many that Endeavour has made and will make on its way across the country from Houston to its final destination at the California Science Center.

Fly-by of Endeavour over Tucson, AZ
image credit: Janine Pforr
The Endeavour is one of the 5 NASA orbiters that ever made it into space. The others are Discovery, Atlantis, Challenger and Columbia. The Endeavour was built in 1987 (and 1988, '89, '90, and '91, as it took some years to built it) after the loss of Challenger during a launch accident. In May 1992 it took off for its first flight into space. Between then and its last flight in May 2011, Endeavour spent nearly 300 days in space while carrying out 25 missions. During this time, Endeavour orbited the earth 4671 times and traveled for 122,883,151 miles. In comparison, if you were to drive once around the Earth in your car (if that were possible), you would have only traveled 24,901 miles and would have to make the same journey another 4934 times to reach the same mileage. Or in other words Endeavour traveled 1.3 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun in its 19 years of service. It was planned that the last ever space shuttle mission would be carried out by Endeavour, but then it was beat by Atlantis and one last mission. During its time in space Endeavour met the MIR, the Russian Space Station, and helped transport men and material to built the International Space Station (ISS). It also carried the first female African-American astronaut Mae Jemison.

But there are a lot of other special facts about Endeavour. It was the first space shuttle that received its name from school children through a naming contest. They chose the name of Captain James Cook's ship "Endeavour" with which he crossed the South Pacific in the 18th century to observe the Transit of Venus in Tahiti. James Cook was not only an explorer by sea, but also an explorer of space as an amateur astronomer!

Endeavour piggyback on the special Boeing 747, Tucson, AZ
image credit: Janine Pforr
But I promised you at the beginning of this post that I would tell you the connection between Endeavour and CANDELS. Although Endeavour did not take the Hubble Space Telescope, with which CANDELS observes the night sky, into space it was the space shuttle that carried out the first servicing mission for Hubble. During this mission in 1993 the astronauts on board of Endeavour repaired the famous mirror problem which had left the HST's performance well below optimal. The astronaut crew installed a new wide field camera (number 2) which corrected the problem and in essence provided Hubble with a pair of glasses. So if it weren't for Endeavour and the other space shuttles (and of course the many astronauts, ground personell and scientists), we might not be able to carry out the research that we do with CANDELS and which relies on the excellent images taken with a space-based telescope!

So you can imagine that I was pretty excited to learn that Endeavour will fly over my head, also because I have never seen a space shuttle this close or on the back of a Boeing 747 for that matter. Many people assembled on the outside grounds of the University of Arizona to witness this spectacle around 11:15 am local time and everyone applauded the shuttle on its last travel. Today, the 747+Endeavour package will do several fly-overs across California, for example NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the San Francisco Bay area, before landing around noon in LA from where it will make a road trip to the California Science Center. Save final travels to you Endeavour and a well-deserved retirement!

1 comment:

  1. Great photos and info, Janine ... sure wish we had a new shuttle fleet to continue the mission.