Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NASA Gears Up For Final Endeavour Flight

A sophisticated cosmic ray detector is ready to be loaded into shuttle Endeavour's expansive cargo bay this week as NASA continues to gear up for the orbiter's 25th and final flight.

The $1.5 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer was delivered to Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A Monday night and will be installed the shuttle's cargo bay later this week.

The high-tech astrophysics experiment is a particle physics detector that will search for signs of antimatter and dark matter while measuring cosmic rays. The payload will be fixed to the exterior of the International Space Station and is expected to give scientists a better understanding of the structure and origin of the universe.

Engineers involved with the mission are psyched.

"I've been here many years, and this in one of the most exciting missions I've worked on," NASA payload manager Joe Delei said. "It's amazing. I think this is going to be the next best thing, and we're looking forward to it."

The 15,000-pound payload was hauled to the pad from the Space Station Processing Facility in the KSC Industrial Area. Flying up with it is a spare parts pallet that holds two communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank, micrometeorite debris shields and extra parts for a two-armed Canadian robot named Dextre.

A six-man astronaut crew is scheduled to launch aboard Endeavour at 7:48 p.m. April 19 and arrive at the station two days later. Four spacewalks are planned during the 14-day mission, which is scheduled to land at KSC's shuttle runway at 1:27 p.m. May 3.

The mission will be the 134th shuttle flight and the 36th shuttle mission to the station. Atlantis is scheduled to launch June 28 on NASA's final shuttle mission.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the FLORIDA TODAY photo of shuttle Endeavour perched on launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. You can also click the enlarged image to get a bigger, more detailed view. The shuttle is being prepped for NASA's penultimate shuttle flight. Photo credit: Todd Halvorson/FLORIDA TODAY.

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