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Space shuttle Endeavour: 'An incredible ship'

25 missions and 122 million miles for 'amazing vehicle'

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The Unity module approaches the Zarya module. Pic: NASAIn January 1998, the spacecraft visited Russia's Mir space station, and in December of that year had the honour of carrying out the first International Space Station flight, which saw the Unity module (bottom of pic) released from its cargo bay and mated with the Russian Zarya control module (seen orbiting).

The shuttle subsequently returned to the ISS 11 times. Between 2000 and its swansong STS-134 mission to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the orbiting outpost, the spacecraft also dropped off solar arrays, the P1 Integrated Truss Segment, the Dextre Robotics System, and the Tranquility node.

The highlight of Endeavour's multiple voyages to the ISS came, as far as the public was concerned, during 2008's STS-126, when spacewalker Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper dropped her toolbag, consigning it to a fiery death in Earth's upper atmosphere.

By the time Endeavour trundled to a halt at Kennedy Space Center yesterday, it had "spent 299 days in space, orbited Earth 4,671 times and traveled 122,883,151 miles".

It will now be prepared for display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, while NASA gets ready to bring the shuttle era to a close with the final mission of Atlantis on 8 July.

Shuttle Columbia, atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, flys past Endeavour at Kennedy Space Center in 1994. Pic: NASA

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said today: "We are very proud of Endeavour's legacy, and this penultimate flight of the space shuttle programme once again demonstrated the amazing skill and dedication of our astronauts and the entire workforce.

"As we begin the transition from the shuttle programme to the commercial transportation of our crews and cargo, our ability to tackle big challenges remains steadfast and will ensure that NASA reaches even more destinations farther in the Solar System."

NASA has an Endeavour factsheet here (two-page/311KB PDF) with a listing of all its missions, and a photo tribute to the shuttle here. ®

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