At 8:56am EDT today, the Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from the Kennedy Space Center marking the final launch for the soon to be retired orbiter. Almost 19 years to the day of its first launch, Endeavour has flown over 116,000,000 miles and spent over 280 days in space. It has gone to space 25 times, visited the International Space Station 11 times and has orbited the earth over 4,423 times. Endeavour was built from spare parts of the Challenger Space Shuttle which was lost at launch in 1986.
It was originally named after the HMS Endeavour, a ship chartered by James Cook in the 1700s to explore the South Pacific, a replica of which was launched this year and is currently on a voyage around Australia. In a letter from STS-134 Captain Mark E. Kelly to the captain of the replica HMS Endeavour, Kelly wrote, “maybe someday another Endeavour we now can only dream of will continue the spirit of exploration that the name represents, perhaps visiting new planets or even new star systems”. The original final launch date for STS-134 was scheduled to coincide with the original HMS Endeavour’s landing at Botany Bay in 1770.
Since the first launch of the NASA Space Shuttle Program on April 12, 1981 (the 20th anniversary of man’s first space flight), the five STS Orbiters have spent over 1,301 days in space, have orbited the Earth over 20,700 times and have flown and landed 131 successful missions. The Space Transports Systems are the only winged manned spacecraft to achieve orbit and land back on Earth.