The space shuttle Endeavour successfully docked with the International Space Station morning of May 18, NASA officials said. An hour before scheduled, hatches between Endeavour and the ISS were opened. The crew of 12 will be together until May 23, when space station crew members Dmitry Kondratyev, Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli undock and return home to Earth.
The shuttle's visit to the ISS is an appropriate last mission for the 20-year-old spacecraft, given that the first two pieces of the space station were joined together in its cargo bay, During the 16-day mission, the shuttle and its crew will also deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) and spare parts including two S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank and additional spare parts for Dextre, a two armed robot also known as the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM).
During the mission, the Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation, or STORRM, will test new sensor technologies that could make it easier for future space vehicles to dock to the space station. STORRM will gather data during Endeavour's rendezvous, docking and undocking. Before heading back to Earth, the shuttle will perform a re-rendezvous maneuver, which will mimic rendezvous trajectories of future spacecraft. Endeavour will move to about 1,044 feet below and 300 feet behind the station during this test, according to a mission summary report.
The crew members for space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission are Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Gregory H. Johnson and mission specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff and Andrew Feustel, and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori. Kelly's wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was critically wounded after an assassination attempt in Arizona in January, was at Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch.
Endeavour's final mission also includes four spacewalks that focus on station maintenance, experiment swap out and transferring Endeavour's orbiter boom sensor system (OBSS) to the station. The crew will leave the boom as a permanent fixture to aid future station spacewalk work if needed, according to NASA's mission outline.
Before departing the ISS, Kondratyev will hand over command of the station to Andrey Borisenko. After the shuttle crew's departure, Borisenko will remain on the station with Alexander Samokutyaev and Ron Garan as a trio until the remainder of the Expedition 28 crew arrives June 9. Mission STS-134 is the 134th shuttle mission, the 36th shuttle flight to the space station, and the 25th flight of Endeavour, according to information released by NASA.
The last orbiter built, Endeavour flew its maiden voyage on May 7, 1992, on mission STS-49. Later missions included the first servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope on STS-61 in December 1993, delivery of the first American component of the space station, the Unity Module, on STS-88 in December 1998, and the flight of the first educator astronaut, Barbara Morgan, who flew into space on STS-118 in August 2007. The shuttle is named for the first ship commanded by James Cook, the 18th century British explorer, navigator and astronomer.
The launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, mission STS-135, will be the final operation of the space shuttle program and is targeted to launch on June 28. It will deliver supplies and spare parts to the ISS as well as a system to test refueling existing spacecraft robotically. The crew will also return a failed ammonia pump module to help NASA improve designs for future systems.