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Monday, May 16, 2011

NASA preps shuttle Endeavour for final flight

Space shuttle set to liftoff on its last mission Monday morning.

After repairing problems that derailed space shuttle Endeavour's first launch attempt, NASA is prepping for a Monday morning lift-off.

The shuttle is set for an 8:56 a.m. ET launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This will be Endeavour's final space flight before it is retired. After this mission, only one more shuttle flight is scheduled before the entire shuttle fleet is retired.

Endeavour's initial launch date was scrubbed just three and a half hours before its scheduled liftoff late last month. The liftoff was cancelled because of problems with two heaters associated with the shuttle's Auxiliary Power Unit. The unit provides hydraulic power during the shuttle's ascent and entry.

With that problem now fixed, NASA worked overnight between Sunday and Monday to get the shuttle ready to go. A little before midnight, technicians were fueling the shuttle's external fuel tank with more than 500,000 gallons of super cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

Endeavour is headed for a 16-day mission to bring equipment, spare parts and experiments to the International Space Station. The mission originally was scheduled for 14 days -- the extra two days were added just last week.

The shuttle is carrying aloft a piece of equipment that will search space for some of the biggest mysteries of physics -- antimatter and dark matter. The AMS (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer) particle detector will be installed and operated on the International Space Station.

Endeavour also is carrying a six-man crew, including a computer programmer who built software for spacecraft before becoming an astronaut.

Greg Chamitoff will serve as a mission specialist on Endeavour's final space flight. Chamitoff was an engineer and a software developer, working for companies like Atari Computer and IBM before joining NASA, where he developed software applications for three years before training to go into space.

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