The space shuttle Endeavour took its final flight this week — completing an aerial tour around California and a special detour over Tucson, AZ, to commemorate its last commander, Mark Kelly, and his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. After 25 missions, 299 days in space, and 123 million miles, the space shuttle's final destination is the California Science Center in Los Angeles. As Endeavour settles into its new permanent home, we're coveting these unique Etsy finds that pay homage to space shuttles and brave explorers everywhere.
The space shuttle Enterprise took its final voyage in style today atop a 747 flying over the New York City skyline. After today's landing at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, Enterprise will be ferried via the Hudson River to its new home at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. View the shuttle's Big Apple moment, complete with a Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building sendoff, as caught through Instagram snapshots in the gallery.
There may not have been any human exploration of Mars this year, but there certainly were plenty of galactic milestones in the last 12 months from NASA and international space programs. From the end of the space shuttle program that once had kids dreaming of becoming astronauts to the launch of a space robot to a possible planet twin, which of these 2011 headlines was your highlight of the year's space exploration?
- End of Shuttle Era — Over the Summer, NASA marked its 135th and final space shuttle mission. After a 30-year long program, the shuttle Atlantis was the last manned American spaceship of its kind to leave Earth. NASA is turning future missions to the exploration of other planets and deep space.
- Curiosity Mars Rover Takes Off — In hopes of learning more about the Red Planet, NASA launched the Mars Science Laboratory, with a rover named Curiosity on board in November. It will take about nine months before the Rover descends on our neighbor planet, where its high-tech components will analyze the Martian terrain.
- Earth-Like Planet Confirmed in the Habitable Zone — The team of NASA scientists working with the Kepler satellite confirmed the sighting of a planet in the habitable zone of a distant star. Kepler-22b, is 600 light years away from Earth, is larger in size than our planet, and orbits its sun-like star in just 290 days.
- Voyager Enters Interstellar Space — After 30 years of travel, the Voyager 1 spacecraft passed the boundaries of our solar system, inching closer to interstellar space. Launched from the US in 1977, Voyager 1 is now about 11 billion miles away from the sun.
Reminisce back to two more 2011 space events after the break.
Partners of the International Space Station (including Russia and NASA) announced final plans for the ISS yesterday: letting it crash land in the Pacific Ocean after it is decommissioned in 2020.
Although it's taken over 10 years to build the ISS up to what it is today, now that NASA's shuttle program has been shut down and Russia plans to discontinue the Soyuz craft in 2015, there's no reason to let the ISS float around in space along with other space junk. Thankfully, there's a future for privatized space travel, but they won't be using the ISS to get from Earth to point B.
Feeling nostalgic? Check out some images of the ISS in the gallery!
NASA's space shuttle program may be over, but you don't have to say farewell forever. Take a piece of history (or just a reminder) with these space-themed goodies.
The space shuttle Atlantis touched down with its crew for the final time yesterday morning, marking the final shuttle mission for NASA. The space shuttle program may be coming to an end but research and broader NASA missions have yielded technological findings that affected life on the Earth's surface:
- Based on lighting technology developed for plant growth research on the space shuttle, surgeons have used photodynamic therapy to treat brain cancer with successful results.
- Algorithms developed for the Hubble Telescope were used to improve the image processing techniques in mammography.
- Miniature sensors that explore air on other planets for traces of life eventually led to the development of hand-held devices to detect explosives and chemical agents in combat situations.
Click through the gallery to see more incredible images of Atlantis returning home.
We watched the final space shuttle mission during last week's live broadcast, and NASA finally released the 30 minute video of the Atlantis liftoff today, which is viewed from cameras mounted on the twin rocket boosters, as well as aboard the spacecraft. The images are pretty incredible — showing both the liftoff, the rocket booster's fall back to earth, and the orbit entry — and worth checking out if you have some spare time!
The final space shuttle mission continues ahead of schedule this week, as the crew of Atlantis make their temporary home in space inside the International Space Station.
Today at 11:29 a.m. (EDT), the space shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center and headed to the International Space Station with four US astronauts on board. This marks the final NASA space shuttle mission as the program retires and space research takes a new direction. If you missed the memorable takeoff, view the archived stream below. The actual shuttle launch is around the 18:00 mark.
We recommend you watch the whole thing, since there are some really interesting facts to learn about the space shuttle itself, but if you don't have the time, learn a little more about what goes into building a shuttle as powerful as Atlantis below.
- Atlantis's exterior is made of 24,182 thermal tiles, 161 of which are replacement tiles necessary after damage caused by previous flights.
- Tiles are made of a heat-resistant quartz fabric with aluminum batting inside.
- The black tiles on the shuttle's underbelly will see heat of up to 2300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Two more Atlantis facts after the break.
The space shuttle Atlantis blasted off for a 16-day mission at the International Space Station this morning. It was definitely a bittersweet event for space explorers (and wannabe astronauts) everywhere, as this was the final shuttle mission for NASA. Check out some images from the launch in this gallery, and tell us how you watched the takeoff in the comments!