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Endeavour flies to ISS for the last time

The crew of the STS-134 mission: Mark Kelly (commander, front centre), Gregory H. Johnson (pilot) and mission specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori (left to right). Credit: NASA.
by Staff Writers
Bonn, Germany (SPX) May 17, 2011
On 16 May 2011 at 08:56 EDT (14:56 CEST), Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center (Florida) on the penultimate shuttle mission (STS-134) to the International Space Station (ISS). On board are the commander Mark Kelly, pilot Gregory H. Johnson, mission specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and Italian ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori.

Endeavour is carrying the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) and the external carrier platform 'EXPRESS Logistic Carrier 3' to the ISS. The AMS is equipped with several particle detectors that will investigate cosmic radiation. The task of the magnetic spectrometer is to explore fundamental questions about the origin, matter and structure of the Universe.

DLR's Space Administration is supporting significant participation by German scientists in the AMS experiment with funding from the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (Bundesministerium fur Wirtschaft und Technologie; BMWi) to the amount of ten million Euro.

In Germany, the Institute of Physics at RWTH Aachen University and the Institute of Experimental Nuclear Physics at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Karlsruher Institut fur Technologie; KIT) are responsible for the Transition Radiation Detector, components of the particle tracker and a lateral particle shield.

Staff at DLR's German Space Operations Center (GSOC) in Oberpfaffenhofen will work closely with the shuttle and the ISS crews during the mission. They will support the crew as they work in the station's European Columbus module - such as when they are replacing a disk drive in one of the experiments.

In advance of the shuttle's arrival, GSOC engineers together with the ISS astronauts have already removed parts from an ESA experiment rack. These will be brought back to Earth by Endeavour for repair.

Also on board Endeavour is a sample container with spores of the microorganism 'Bacillus subtilis MW01' from the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne. "These are descendants of the space-proven bacterium Bacillus subtilis, which we bred for the space experiment ADAPT and the Phobos Grunt mission to Mars' moon. Phobos Grunt is scheduled for launch later in 2011.

Now, around 100 million of these tiny and very resistant life forms are flying on Endeavour in order to temporarily subject them to the conditions in low Earth orbit. The samples will remain aboard the shuttle and will not be taken onto the ISS," said DLR researcher Wassmann Marko, who grew the bacteria.

The planned duration of mission STS-134 is 16 days and ends with the return of the Endeavour on 1 June 2011. It is the 235th Shuttle flight, the 25th use of the Endeavour and the penultimate flight of the NASA Space Shuttle programme.

Four spacewalks are planned - the last ones scheduled in the space shuttle era. Mission specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff and Andrew Feustel will be working in teams of two during extravehicular activities on 20, 22, 24 and 26 May, performing maintenance and installing new experiments.

The last space shuttle mission, STS-135 with the shuttle Atlantis, is scheduled for launch on 28 June 2011.

related report
Last Shuttle with ESA astronaut lifts off to Space Station to hunt 'dark matter'
The Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off on her last mission to the International Space Station. Following launch of the STS-134 mission at 12:56 GMT (14:56 CEST), Endeavour is heading towards a docking with the Station at 10:15 GMT (12:15 CEST) on Wednesday, 18 May.

ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori and his five crewmates will spend 16 days in space on a mission to deliver highly sophisticated European instrument designed to identify the cosmic fingerprints left by antimatter and 'dark matter' in the Universe. Welcoming him aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will be fellow Italian ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who has been working aboard since December.

Roberto's mission is named DAMA in reference to the search for the mysterious dark matter that will be conducted by the 6.9-tonne fundamental physics payload, the AMS-02 Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, probably the most ambitious science payload ever launched to the Station.

"The international science community has great expectations of the data to be collected by AMS-02 to understand key questions such as: what makes up the Universe's invisible mass?" said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA.

"In this, it beautifully complements the observations of ESA's Planck space observatory, which is measuring the fraction of the invisible mass to a high degree of precision, and the Herschel satellite, which is for example observing its effects on young galaxies.

"AMS is a perfect example of the uniqueness of the ISS to promote fundamental scientific research in various disciplines, such as life sciences, Earth observation, material sciences and physics.

"With the recently approved extension of ISS to 2020, we now have the capability to offer an international laboratory to scientific communities around the world to push the frontier of knowledge."

Using a giant 1.2-tonne magnet that generates a field 4000 times stronger than Earth's own, AMS-02 will analyse high-energy cosmic rays with unprecedented sensitivity and accuracy to look for antimatter and dark matter.

Antimatter is believed to have been created on a par with normal matter but it seems to have disappeared from the Universe we know today. Dark matter is estimated to account for around 90% of our Universe's mass, but it has not been detected directly so far.

STS-134 is the 26th and last Shuttle mission to carry an ESA astronaut, marking the end of the close collaboration on the programme between the two agencies.

ESA astronauts have served on the crews of about one in five of all Shuttle missions over three decades, and has directly contributed to about two thirds of the missions. The major primary payloads include the Spacelab laboratories, the Ulysses solar probe, the Eureca free-flyer, and four of the Station modules - especially the Columbus laboratory.

Endeavour and Roberto Vittori are scheduled to return to Earth on 1 June.

Two other ESA astronauts are training for six-month missions to the ISS as part of the permanent crew. Next to go is Andre Kuipers, who will be launched on a Soyuz in November. Luca Parmitano, the first from ESA's 2010 class of astronauts to get a mission assignment, is preparing for his Soyuz launch in December 2013.

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