At 8:56am EST this morning, NASA‘s space shuttle Endeavour took off on its final voyage into the beyond, reports NASA’s Space.com blog. The launch took place at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It took eight and a half minutes for Endeavour to reach orbit.
The Endeavour launch was originally scheduled for April 29, but was called off after a heater used to help protect a “critical” power unit failed just three and a half hours before liftoff.
During its 16-day mission, Endeavour’s six-man crew will deliver supplies to the International Space Station. The equipment includes two S-band communication antennas, a spare arm for the ISS’s Dextre robot and a new hand and arm for its humanoid robot, the Robonaut 2.
The shuttle’s mission also includes delivering the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a particle detector that scientists hope will help uncover some of the biggest mysteries in physics: antimatter and dark matter. The AMS, which cost and international team of scientists roughly $2 billion to build, tracks incoming particles, like electrons and protons. The AMS’s sensitive monitors should also be able to detect a single anitmatter particle, which would be a major breakthrough for physics.
On the ground, 500,000 spectators watched Endeavour’s launch, including Endeavour commander Mark Kelly’s wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who suffered gunshot wounds in January, while holding a community outreach event at a grocery store in Tuscon, Arizona.
The enthusiasm for the shuttle launch didn’t stop at Cape Canaveral. Online, terms like “NASA TV” and “space shuttle” quickly shot to the top of Google Trends. And a photograph of the Endeavour launch taken from a commercial airliner by Twitter user Stephanie Gordon quickly made its way around a variety of social networks.
Endeavour’s mission is the next-to-last of all NASA shuttle missions. The final shuttle to venture into space, Atlantis, is scheduled to launch in June.
“As Americans, we endeavor to build a better life than the generation before and we endeavor to be a united nation,” said Commander Kelly prior to launch. “In these efforts we are often tested. It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore. We must not stop.”
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