U.S. shuttle Endeavor lifts off for final voyage

08:13, May 17, 2011      

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U.S. space shuttle Endeavor lifts off on Monday morning from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to deliver to the International Space Station a 2-billion-dollar, multinational particle detector known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

U.S. space shuttle Endeavor lifts off on Monday morning from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to deliver to the International Space Station a 2-billion-dollar, multinational particle detector known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS).

It is the 25th and final scheduled flight for the spaceship, a 20-year-old space exploration veteran.

According to NASA TV, the shuttle blasted off at about 8:56 a.m. EDT (1256 GMT) on a tower of flame. The climb to orbit takes about eight and half minutes.

AMS, a particle physics detector, is designed to search for various types of unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays. Its experiments are designed to help researchers study the formation of the universe and search for evidence of dark matter, strange matter and antimatter.

Endeavor also will fly a platform that carries spare parts, including two S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank and additional spare parts for Canadian Dextre robotic arm. These spare parts will sustain space station operations once the shuttles are retired from service.

The 16-day mission will feature four spacewalks to do maintenance work and install new components. These are the last scheduled spacewalks by shuttle crew members.

NASA's 30-year-old shuttle program is ending due to high operating costs. The Obama administration wants to spur private companies to get into the space taxi business, freeing NASA to focus on deep space exploration and new technology development.

When the U.S. space shuttle program officially ends later this year, the Russian space program's Soyuz capsule will be the only method for transporting astronauts to and from the station.

Source: Xinhua

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