Endeavour was built much later then its shuttle brethren; but in its short lifetime it has accomplished nearly as much.
The space shuttle will launch for the final time today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It's the 25th and final mission for Endeavour, and the penultimate mission for the space shuttle program, which began 30 years ago.
The fifth and final spacecraft to be commissioned as part of the space shuttle program, Endeavour first launched in 1992 after five years of construction work in Palmdale, Calif. It was the replacement to the Challenger shuttle, which tragically exploded just after launch in 1986, killing all six crew members instantly. The name Endeavour, chosen out of a possible 6,154 entries, was that of a ship captained by 18th century British explorer James Cook, chartered to traverse the South Pacific in 1768. Cook was not only an experienced seaman and navigator -- he was also an amateur astronomer.
Since its first mission, Endeavour has traveled 116,372,930 miles, spent 283 days in space and has had a total of 4,423 orbits.
Over the years, it has reached many celebrated milestones. It was the first shuttle to go on a mission that included four spacewalks, and then the first to include five. One of its first missions, STS-67, set a length record almost two full days longer than any shuttle mission before it. Its airlock is the only one to have seen three spacewalkers exit through it for a single spacewalk. And in its cargo bay is where the construction of the International Space Station was started.
Its final mission, SMS-134, won't exactly be a victory lap. It will be delivering, what NASA calls a new cutting edge science experiment to the space station: the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). The state-of-the-art, high energy particle physics experiment was built by 16 collaborating countries.
The AMS is an amazing story all by itself, said Gary Horlacher, lead space shuttle flight director for the mission. They've been working on this for well over 15 years now. It's bigger than a VW bug, and it will be able to look at things that the other observatories aren't even looking at. It is, without a doubt, going to continue to rewrite our future as we try to figure out our past.
Once its done for good, Endeavour will retire to the California Space Center, in the same state where it was built.