KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Signaling the beginning of the end for NASA's storied shuttle program, the Endeavour plunged back to Earth today, closing out its 25th and final flight.
The baton is now passed to its sistership, Atlantis, which was hauled to the launching pad a few hours earlier for it July 8 blastoff on the program's final voyage.
With commander Mark Kelly and pilot Gregory Johnson at the controls, Endeavour dropped out of a moonless sky and into the glare of powerful xenon floodlights after a fiery descent from orbit, settling to a ghostly touchdown on runway 15 at 2:34 a.m. EDT.
Barreling down the 300-foot-wide landing strip at more than 200 mph, Johnson deployed a large red-and-white braking parachute, Kelly brought the nose down, and Endeavour coasted to a stop on the runway centerline.
"Houston, Endeavour. Wheels stopped," Kelly radioed in a traditional call to Houston.
"122 million miles flown during 25 challenging space flights, your landing ends a vibrant legacy for this amazing vehicle that will long be remembered," astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore replied from mission control. "Welcome home, Endeavour."
"Thank you, Houston," Kelly said. "You know, the space shuttle is an amazing vehicle, to fly through the atmosphere, hit it at Mach 25, steer through the atmosphere like an airplane, land on a runway. It is really, really an incredible ship."
He thanked "every person who's worked on Endeavour," saying "it's sad to see her land for the last time, but she really has a great legacy."… Read more