NASA's space shuttle Endeavour lifted off this morning on its final space flight.
Endeavour launched from Kennedy Space Center at 8:56 a.m. ET, reaching orbit in eight and a half minutes. On what will be Endeavour's last flight, the shuttle is now on the first day of a 16-day mission.
After this mission, only one more shuttle flight is scheduled. Atlantis is scheduled to liftoff on its final mission in June, making it the last shuttle scheduled to fly in space.
Endeavour was originally scheduled to launch on April 29, but trouble with an auxiliary power unit forced NASA to scrub the mission just three and a half hours before liftoff.
For this 16-day mission, the shuttle crew is bringing equipment, experiments and supplies to the International Space Station. The equipment includes two S-band communication antennas, a new hand and arm for the station's humanoid robot, and a spare arm for the station's Dextre robot.
The shuttle also will be carrying a piece of equipment that will search space for some of the biggest mysteries of physics -- antimatter and dark matter. The AMS (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer) particle detector will be installed and operated on the space station.
Built by an international team, the $2 billion AMS is designed to track incoming charged particles, such as protons, electrons and atomic nuclei. By studying these cosmic rays with its highly sensitive monitors, the machine should be able to identify a single particle of antimatter or dark matter among a billion other particles.
While getting that particular machine in place is of great importance to scientists, the shuttle's mission is a historic one for NASA.
Endeavour, the newest shuttle in NASA's fleet, was first launched on May 7, 1992 and has had a storied career.
Among other things, Endeavour carried the astronauts who conducted the first servicing mission on the Hubble space telescope. It also made a trip to the MIR space station. This will be its 12th trip to the International Space Station.
According to NASA, at the time of Endeavour's scheduled landing, the shuttle will have traveled more than 100 million miles during 25 flights and it will have spent more than 294 days in space.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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