NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour, the youngest of the US space program’s orbiters, is to blast off for the last time today, delivering a US$2bn particle physics experiment to the International Space Station.
Endeavour and her crew of six astronauts are scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 15.47 local time (19.47 GMT; 20.47 BST). Upon completion of its two-week and 25th mission, NASA will retire Endeavour to a museum in Los Angeles.
The space shuttle Atlantis will then be the only shuttle still in active service, and it is expected to make its final journey in the next few months.
NASA is retiring the shuttles because of high operating costs and the need to free up funds for work on a new launch system that can carry people and cargo beyond the space station’s orbit, where shuttles can’t go.
Mark Kelly is the commander for Endeavour. His wife is Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is now recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. She will be at the Kennedy Space Center to watch the liftoff, along with US President Barack Obama.
Endeavour, which was built to replace the space shuttle Challenger that broke apart on liftoff in 1986, has travelled a cumulative distance in space of 166m km.