Space shuttle Commander Mark Kelly and his five crewmates are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 8:56 a.m. EDT Monday. The STS-134 mission is the penultimate orbiter flight and the final one for shuttle Endeavour. "This mission represents the power of teamwork, commitment and exploration," Commander Mark Kelly said shortly before liftoff. "It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore. We must not stop. To all the millions watching today including our spouses, children, family and friends, we thank you for your support." The crew will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS) and critical supplies to the space station, including two communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank and additional parts for the Dextre robot.
AMS is a particle physics detector designed to search for various types of unusual cosmic matter. The crew also will transfer Endeavour's orbiter boom sensor system to the station, where it could assist spacewalkers as an extension for the station's robotic arm. "Today's final launch of Endeavour is a testament to American ingenuity and leadership in human spaceflight," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "As we look toward a bright future with the International Space Station as our anchor and new destinations in deep space on the horizon, we salute the astronauts and ground crews who have ensured the orbiter's successful missions. The presence of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at the launch inspired us all, just as America's space program has done for the past 50 years."
Kelly's crewmates are Pilot Greg H. Johnson and Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency. This is the first shuttle flight for Fincke and Vittori. Vittori will be the last international astronaut to fly aboard a shuttle. Endeavour is scheduled to dock to the station at 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday. The 16-day mission includes four spacewalks. After undocking to return to Earth, Kelly and Johnson will ease the shuttle back toward the station to test new sensor technologies that could facilitate the docking of future space vehicles to the station. The shuttle's first landing opportunity at Kennedy is scheduled for 2:32 a.m. on June 1. STS-134 is the 134th shuttle flight, the 25th flight for Endeavour and the 36th shuttle mission dedicated to station assembly and maintenance.