The Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour made its way from LAX to the California Science Center a few days ago. A huge throng of people showed up to watch and take pictures. Among them was Matthew Givot and his team, who took many thousands of pictures, and then created a stunning and moving time lapse tribute to NASA’s youngest and now-retired Orbiter.
That was wonderful. As I’ve written several times, my feelings about the Shuttle program are mixed. But even as this amazing machine is put on display, Earthbound forever more, I’m hopeful about American space flight. We stand on the cusp of the future, and it won’t be long before we make that next giant leap.
I didn’t say much about the last flight of the Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour here on the blog (though I did tweet links to some cool pictures, so follow me on Twitter to stay up on that sort of thing) mostly because I knew pictures would be coming in so fast I wouldn’t be able to keep up!
But then one very special image came along, and I just had to put it here: Endeavour and its 747 ride as seen from the DigitalGlobe satellite:
This image was featured on the Google Earth blog (which also provides a KML file so you can see it for yourself if you have the GE software installed). At the time, the 747 and the Orbiter were about 40 km southeast of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Note that I rotated the picture a bit to fit better here on the blog.
Here’s a zoom of the plane and Orbiter. The blue shadow is an artifact, created due to the satellite swapping out filters as it took pictures. Because the plane was moving, you get what’s essentially a double exposure. But you can see the real shadow in the big picture above.
Endeavour was on its way to Edwards Air Force Base at the time (and eventually to the Los Angeles Airport) in California, and will soon be transferred via surface roads to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. If you thought LA traffic was bad before…
I’ll note that a lot of people were sad to see this last flight of the Orbiter. I’ll admit my own feelings are mixed – I’ve written about this before. While the Shuttles were magnificent machines, they were only designed to go into low Earth orbit, and our destiny is in much deeper space. And it’s my strong fact-based opinion that we are still well on our way to that destination. It won’t be right away, but it won’t necessarily be too long, either.
The last flight of Endeavour may be bittersweet, but looking back only helps if you use the past as a basis to venture farther in the future. And we have the whole sky open to us. We just have to choose to do it.
I choose the future. I hope others do as well.
Image credit: Google Earth
– Discovery makes one final flight… but we must move on.
– Debating space
– NASA chooses SpaceX to return US astronauts to space (NOTE: the title I chose for this was misleading, so I wrote an addendum to the post in the first paragraph)
I’ve been stuck in some epic traffic jams, but I think this one wins:
Those are the Space Shuttle orbiters Endeavour and Atlantis [click to embiggen] at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Endeavour has just finished being processed for travel, and will soon be on its way to California to eventually go to the California Science Center in LA. Atlantis is staying at Kennedy Space Center itself at the Visitor’s Center.
Funny – a year ago I posted a similar picture Endeavour and Discovery, saying it was the last time we’d see a shot like that. I guess I was wrong.
Either way, there won’t be too many more like this… but soon we’ll be launching humans back into space once again. My hope is that when we do it’ll be easier, less expensive, more reliable, and the beginning of not just tentative toes-in-the-water, but plunging full into the ocean of space.
Image credit: NASA
Here’s something you don’t see every day.. or will ever again: two Space Shuttle Orbiters, nose to nose:
[Click to enspaceplanate.]
The two Orbiters, Discovery and Endeavour, are seen here outside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Both are being cleaned up and prepped to be shipped (or, more properly, flown) to museums; Discovery to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, and Endeavour to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
[UPDATE: Here’s a shot of the two Orbiters seen from the air!
Very, very cool.]
I expect at some point I’ll pay these ladies a visit. Discovery and I have a connection — it took a camera I worked on up to Hubble back in 1997 — and it’ll be interesting, if also a touch melancholy, to see them up close.
Image credit: NASA
Yesterday, I posted a beautiful picture of the Orbiter Endeavour docked to the International Space Station. The shot was taken by European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli from about 200 meters away; he was inside a Soyuz capsule that had just disembarked. What I didn’t know last night is that NASA wanted a series of pictures of the Orbiter and ISS together, a legacy gallery to commemorate Endeavour’s last flight.
The ESA has just posted the gallery, and it’s truly wonderful.
You really need to take a stroll through those images. They are the last ones that will ever be taken of Endeavour docked to the space station it helped build. The one above is my favorite, but there are a couple of dozen others that give you a good idea of how huge and how complicated ISS is.
Not only that, but NASA just released video taken by Nespoli as well:
Endeavour landed safely on June 1, and Atlantis, the last Shuttle launch, will make its way skyward on July 8.
Credits: ESA, NASA
Thierry Legault is a wonder. His astrophotos and shots of orbiting satellites have graced this blog many, many times (see Related Posts below), but even so I get a thrill every time he sends me a note about new pictures. Wanna know why? Check this out: Endeavour docked on the International Space Station:
Holy. Haleakala! [Click to embiggen; note that the images shown here are also done with Emmanuel Rietsch.]
This may be the most amazing shot of an Orbiter and ISS I have ever seen! Oh… and did I mention this was taken from the ground? Yegads.
The detail is incredible; you can see features on Endeavour, the open payload bay doors, and all sorts of accoutrements on the station itself (including the newly-installed the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2). This picture actually shows three frames from a video; as the ISS and Orbiter pass overhead their angle to the ground changes, and you can see that in the sequence. The video itself is embedded on his website, and you have to see it to believe it. He has 3D versions, too!
And there’s more. As Endeavour was on approach to dock with ISS he got this amazing shot of it silhouetted against the Sun (click to see it in full-res, and yes, you really really want to). The time window for getting a picture with the Orbiter and ISS like this is just a matter of hours; it’s hard enough figuring out where and when on Earth to see the Orbiter against the Sun, but to happen to nail it when it’s only a hundred meters from the ISS is mind-boggling. I love how the clouds add a bit of drama to the scene, too. It doesn’t hurt that several sunspots are dotting the disk of the Sun, too. The space station looks odd, but you’re seeing it from the side, so it’s more edge-on.
This next one may give you more of a sense of scale here:
Last night, at 06:35 UTC, the Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour came down from space for the last time, safely landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
[Click to embiggen.]
On its last mission, Endeavour traveled over 10 million km (6.5 million miles) and the mission lasted for 15 days, 17 hours, 38 minutes, and 51 seconds. Since its first launch in 1992, it flew a total of 25 missions — it was built to replace Challenger, the first of two Orbiters lost — most notably, for me at least, was the first Hubble Space Telescope reservicing mission in late 1993.
Endeavour was named after the famed ship sailed by Captain James Cook. This was the same ship he took in 1769 to the South Pacific to observe the very rare transit of Venus across the Sun’s face, in the hopes of determining the size and scale of the solar system. Quite the legacy.
As I wrote when Discovery touched down for the last time: I’d say "Welcome home", but the ground is not a spaceship’s home.
What’s it like to ride up on the Shuttle to space? If you were, say, strapped to the solid rocket boosters?
Pretty cool. I love seeing these views; I’ve watched a bazillion launches on video (and one from 10 km away in 1997), so the stack rocking as the liquid fuel ignites, the sudden leap when the SRBs go off, the roll maneuver a few seconds later — they’re all familiar. Seeing them from the point of view of the Shuttle itself is nifty.
Note what happens 45 seconds into the video: Endeavour blows through the cloud deck. That moment, from the ground, is a lot more dramatic, especially when photographed by Trey Ratcliff. It’s really amazing to tie together what we see from the ground with what’s seen from the rocket.
This is the last flight of Endeavour; it’s scheduled to land in Florida on June 1 at 2:32 a.m. Eastern US time (06:32 UTC). The last Shuttle launch will be Atlantis, scheduled for July 8 at 11:40 a.m. EDT (15:40 UTC).
[UPDATE 2 (noon MDT Sunday May 1): NASA has just announced that they have to get inside Endeavour to replace a hardware unit, and while they won’t give a firm launch date, the very earliest they could launch is May 8. That’s the next launch window, and not when they actually expect they can launch; that actual date is unknown as yet. They should have a better understanding of when they can launch in a couple of days.]
[UPDATE: As of 11:00 MDT Sunday, NASA is saying that due to trouble in fixing the problem, the launch will be delayed until at least the end of the upcoming week. I’ll have more details as I get them.]
You can keep up with the latest news at NASA’s Shuttle site, and watch the launch live on the SpaceVidCast Ustream channel.