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Space Shuttle Endeavour’s many successful endeavours

Picture from May 16, 1992 shows Endeavour making its first landing after a successful mission.   | Photo Credit: NASA

The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, which saw the shuttle break apart 73 seconds after launch during its 10th mission, shook the U.S. and the world. It changed the way NASA functioned forever. Of the many changes that came was the birth of Endeavour, the fifth and final space shuttle to be built by NASA as part of the Space Shuttle programme.

Even though Endeavour was born of a tragedy and built to replace the Challenger that had been lost, it was highly successful. Using spare parts from its shuttle fleet, including those parts pre-fabricated during the development of Discovery and Atlantis, NASA completed the new orbiter in 1991.

How to name it

Sensing an opportunity to get some positive press, NASA decided to have a competition for U.S. schools to name the shuttle while it was still under construction. The NASA Orbiter-Naming Project, which set out the requirements for the name, attracted entries from over 6,000 schools, representing nearly 70,000 children.

As the shuttle had to be named after an “exploratory or research sea vessel”, a large number of entries chose the same name: Endeavour. The Endeavour was an 18th-Century British vessel best-known for its maiden voyage during which Captain James Cook charted the South Pacific and commanded the vessel to Tahiti to watch the transit of Venus across the sun.

Endeavour’s first flight in itself was a challenging one. Launched on May 7, 1992, the mission was tasked with salvaging the Intelsat-VI communications satellite that had been launched into a low-altitude orbit.

First challenge

Finding it impossible to grab with the tools they had, the crew worked out a different solution. For the first time, three astronauts performed a spacewalk together that enabled them to recover the satellite. Once in the payload bay, the astronauts repaired it and sent it out on its way to start its service and support the live broadcast of the 1992 Summer Olympics.

When Endeavour landed back on Earth on May 16, 1992 after successfully completing its maiden voyage, a drag chute was released from the orbiter’s tail – one of the more visible safety measures that had been added to the shuttle fleet following Challenger’s loss.

During its next flight in 1992, Endeavour’s seven-member crew included the first female African-American astronaut Mae Jemison as well as the first married couple to fly together in space, Americans Mark Lee and Jan Davis.

Hubble servicing mission

In its fifth mission in 1993, Endeavour ferried the first Hubble Space Telescope repair crew. Following Hubble’s deployment, it was discovered that the telescope’s primary mirror had a small but significant flaw. During the 11-day mission, astronauts carried out a then-record five spacewalks to fit Hubble with corrective optics and other science instruments, including new solar arrays.

Endeavour had the honour of being deeply involved in the construction and assembly of the International Space Station (ISS). And though it is best remembered for launching satellites and building the ISS, Endeavour’s crews also performed thousands of hours of science experiments.

Endeavour’s last space mission reached orbit on May 16, 2011. In its nearly two decades of active service, Endeavour performed 25 missions, clocking nearly 300 days in space.

Endeavour’s road trip

Endeavour being transported from Los Angeles International Airport to its retirement home at the California Science Center in October 2012.

Endeavour being transported from Los Angeles International Airport to its retirement home at the California Science Center in October 2012.   | Photo Credit: JONATHAN ALCORN

As there were calls to house the Endeavour permanently, the California Science Center was chosen as the shuttle’s permanent home after retirement. This, however, proved to be a logistical challenge as the Endeavour had to make a 19-km journey by road to get to its new home.

Workers cut down trees to make room for Endeavour along its way. It took it far longer than flying to space, as Endeavour had to manoeuvre past poles, trees and any other obstacles along the roads. It finally reached the museum in October 2012, where it is now on display.

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 5:06:33 AM |

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