(Sen) - The Space Shuttle Endeavour began its final journey on Wednesday to take its place at the California Science Center.
Endeavour was mounted atop NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), a modified Boeing 747, which took off at 7:22 am local time from the Shuttle Landing Facility runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The duo landed safely in Ellington Field in Houston at 10:40 am local time for a stop off on route to its ultimate destination in California. The flight was originally supposed to take place a day earlier, but was postponed due to bad weather.
The SCA and Endeavour will leave Houston on Thursday morning and stop at Biggs Army Air Field in El Paso to refuel. The next leg of the journey will bring Endeavour to Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
On Friday 21 September it will leave Dryden and fly over areas of Los Angeles and northern California, before landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) at around noon, completing its final flight. Not only is this the last flight for Endeavour, but it will be the last ferry flight of the Space Shuttle era. "We're proud to show off our work that NASA's done," said SCA pilot Bill Rieke.
The Space Shuttle Endeavour will be moved to the California Science Center, where it is hoped that displaying the shuttle to the public will help to inspire a new generation of space explorers.
Endeavour was constructed to replace the Space Shuttle Challenger and first flew in 1992. The youngest of the Space Shuttles, Endeavour set off on its first mission, STS-49, on 7 May 1992. Endeavour completed 25 missions, including the first servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. Endeavour's final mission, STS-134, was the penultimate mission for the Shuttle fleet and began on May 16, 2011, taking crew and equipment to the space station. The Shuttle landed for its final time in June 2011.
In total there were 135 Shuttle missions, the final mission, STS-135, concluding in July 2011. The fleet was then retired after 30 years of service.
The first Shuttle flight was Columbia which launched on April 12, 1981 - only 20 years to the day after Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in space.
Five Shuttles were built for space - Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, plus a prototype Enterprise. Sadly two - Challenger and Columbia - were lost in disasters. In January 1986 Challenger exploded killing all seven astronauts. In February 2003 America suffered its second Shuttle disaster when Columbia broke up on re-entry, killing the seven astronauts aboard.
Astronauts are currently taken to and from the ISS aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, whilst NASA is supporting the development of several spacecraft being built by American companies including SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corporation.