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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