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Space shuttle Endeavour landing  (Source:
Atlantis to embark on its final flight July 8

NASA is in the midst of retiring its space shuttle fleet, and of the three remaining operational orbiters, two have landed safely and the last is ready for its final mission.

In February of this year, NASA sent space shuttle Discovery on its final flight before retirement. Discovery was first launched in 1984, and embarked on its 39th and final flight on February 24. It was one of the remaining three operational orbiters in NASA's space shuttle fleet; the other two are space shuttle's Endeavour and Atlantis.

Space shuttle Endeavour, which made its first flight in 1992, was due to embark on its final launch on April 29 last month, but had to reschedule due to a broken set of heaters. Endeavour finally made its last flight on May 16, which was its 25th mission. The mission was completed this morning when Endeavour landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center at 2:35 a.m.

"It's great to be back here at the Kennedy Space Center," said Mark Kelly, mission commander. "It's great to bring Endeavour back in great shape. Looks like it's ready to go do another mission. But this is going to be the last flight."

Endeavour's 16-day mission was scheduled to retrieve old experiments, put new ones in place, lubricate parts and refill tanks at the International Space Station. In addition to Cmdr. Mark Kelly, the crew consisted of pilot Gregory H. Johnson, mission specialists Michael Fincke, Andrew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff, and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.

Kelly's wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who suffered a gunshot wound to the head in the Tuscon, Arizona mass shooting earlier this year, was unable to attend the Endeavour's landing due to a recent surgery to replace a piece of her skull. There is a 14-day time frame after surgery where the risk of infection is at its highest point.

While in space, Endeavour's crew wore blue rubber bracelets that said "Peace, Love, Gabby" in honor of Giffords.

The landing marked a joyous and emotional event for the crew as they performed the tradition of inspecting the spaceship on Runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center.

"It's sad to see her land for the last time, but she really had a great legacy," said Kelly. "It is really, really an incredible ship."

Two down, one to go. Now that Discovery and Endeavour are retired, Atlantis is the last to fly, and is all ready to go. Atlantis arrived at its Kennedy Space Center launch pad less than an hour after Endeavour landed. The scheduled final flight for Atlantis is July 8.

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By TerranMagistrate on 6/1/2011 12:46:59 PM , Rating: 2
Surely we have a vehicle that replaces the Space Shuttle and is capable of traveling beyond low Earth orbit, right?

RE: Successor?
By kontorotsui on 6/1/2011 2:15:59 PM , Rating: 3
Of course you do.
Made in China.

RE: Successor?
By islseur on 6/2/2011 4:09:03 PM , Rating: 2
with their staged space walks, I doubt the thing would ever fly to space...

RE: Successor?
By nxjwfgwe on 6/3/2011 7:50:39 AM , Rating: 1

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RE: Successor?
By FITCamaro on 6/1/2011 2:18:24 PM , Rating: 1
Sure. Its just in architectural plans since the physical thing was scrapped per order of Bill Clinton.

We had a replacement space shuttle in the late 90s. We just had problems with the fuel tanks holding pressure due to our infant knowledge of carbon fiber at the time. So it was ordered cancelled and the prototypes that were already built were scrapped.

RE: Successor?
By TSS on 6/1/2011 2:31:56 PM , Rating: 2
Why would you want to replace the space shuttle? The idea of the space shuttle was great - use a reusable craft to drive down costs. The execution, not so much. It's a very complex machine that needs to be maintained, rather then just throwing it away after one use. It's proven to be more economical and simply better to use a single use craft.

Why not go for deep space exploration? We don't have to go to mars yet, i'm sure we can find some interesting stuff in the asteroid field halfway there. Gives some deep space experience while maybe making a few interesting discoveries. Maybe we can even drag a few asteroids back that are valueble or big enough to become a space station or something.

Stimulate the private sector with money, technology from nasa, anything they need to get into and back from low and even medium orbit. They will do it cheaper then even the russians can do and probably better. Plus your economy can really use the stimulus.

If ya got out of the great depression building highways why not get out of the great recession building highways to space?

RE: Successor?
By JediJeb on 6/1/2011 6:07:40 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with what you said except the part about the Asteroid Belt, that is actually farther than Mars since it lies between Mars and Jupiter. The distance may be about the same though when Mars is on the opposite side of the sun from Earth.

One of the next steps to me would be to build a Babylon 5 type space station. Place it at one of the LaGrange points and use it for deep space studies. Of course something that big would take decades to build, but if it was done by commercial interest or a mix of government and commercial interests it could probably be done. Yea I have been watching too many reruns lately lol.

RE: Successor?
By delphinus100 on 6/1/2011 9:04:47 PM , Rating: 2
It's proven to be more economical and simply better to use a single use craft.

No, it only proves, as you pretty much said, that the particular iteration of a re-useable launch vehicle that is the Space Shuttle was not a good one. The logic is still sound, if you anticipate enough traffic to orbit, and size the vehicle properly. One problem with the Shuttle is that it had to be too many tings, for too many users in NASA and the DoD (the latter saw early on that it had better keep its ELV options open, and not rely on it completely...)

RE: Successor?
By delphinus100 on 6/1/2011 8:55:11 PM , Rating: 2
Surely we have a vehicle that replaces the Space Shuttle and is capable of traveling beyond low Earth orbit, right?

First, those are two different things.

And at this moment, the answer to either is no. (but then, neither did Mercury overlap with Gemini, overlap with Apollo, overlap with the Shuttle)

But familiarize yourself with 'CCDev,' and stay tuned...

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