May 2, 2011 Leave a comment
Friday’s final launch of the space shuttle Endeavour (imaged sitting alone on the launch pad below) was postponed due to a wiring issue that involved a heater for the shuttle’s hydraulic system.
President Obama, his wife and daughters, and the awe-inspiring Representative Gabrielle Giffords (wife of Endeavour Commander Mark Kelly and survivor of an assassination attempt back in January) were among the thousands in attendance on Friday to watch Endeavour’s final launch and the beginning of the next-to-last space shuttle mission before the fleet is retired by NASA.
Endeavour’s final flight, mission STS-134, is slated to deliver the multi-national collaborative Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) experiment, a particle physics experiment module to be mounted on the International Space Station (ISS). The AMS (pictured below) will study the universe and try to shed some light on how it formed by searching for exotic cosmological particles like antimatter and dark matter while performing precision measurements of cosmic rays composition and flux. Cosmic rays are extremely energetic particles that are constantly bathing the planet and the solar system. We know that most of the low-energy common cosmic rays come from our very own Sun, but it’s the extremely high-energy, rare cosmic rays that we believe originate elsewhere in our galaxy and others that really interest astronomers. Scientists are hoping that mounting AMS on on of the ISS‘s trusses will allow this “Hubble of cosmic rays” to help us better understand these extremely energetic particles.
Unfortunately, it seem’s like the timeline for fixing Endeavour‘s wiring problem and getting the shuttle off the pad is rather long. The most recent news indicates that Endeavour‘s next opportunity to launch will be next Tuesday, May 10. This isn’t a huge problem for NASA, the mission will launch at some point, but it is kind of a bummer considering the considerable amount of PR and promotion that NASA has been drumming up to commemorate the final shuttle missions. NASA launched a full “TweetUp” of the event with such organizations as the U.S. Space Camp Alumni Association (which the author is a member of) and loads of other NASA-friendly organizations. The space agency selected 150 special tweeters for the Endeavour launch, including actors LeVar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Geordi La Forge) and SNL cast member Seth Green. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of that hype and planning was wasted a bit now that the launch has been moved back over a week. Hopefully though, the hoopla for this penultimate launch won’t fade by next week and definitely won’t fade before the final shuttle launch of Atlantis scheduled for June 28.