NASA's Space Shuttle Endeavour successfully returned to Earth at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on June 1, 2011, after its final voyage, nearly two decades after its maiden launch.

Designated as Orbiter Vehicle 105 by NASA, the $1.7-billion shuttle was the fifth and final shuttle to be constructed, entering service in 1992. Endeavour was built to replace the Space Shuttle Challenger, which suffered a catastrophic breakup 73 seconds after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986, killing its crew of seven.

Endeavour's last lift-off

Endeavour's 25th and final mission, STS-134, docked at the International Space Station  (ISS) two days into the mission.   

The primary goal of the 16-day flight was to deliver several pieces of cargo to the ISS. They included a $2-billion instrument that measures cosmic rays called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), as well as critical spare parts such as communications antennae, a high-pressure gas tank and debris shields that are needed to keep the ISS orbiting for another 10 years.

Mark Kelly commanded Endeavour's last voyage, along with five crewmates: Gregory Johnson, Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and Roberto Vittori.

Kelly is married to Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head and critically wounded in January 2011. He returned to training in February, after taking time off to be at his wife's hospital bedside. Giffords attended the launch.

"Your landing ends a vibrant legacy for this amazing vehicle that will long be remembered. Welcome home, Endeavour," Mission Control said as the shuttle successfully touched down at the Kennedy Space Center.

"It's sad to see her land for the last time, but she really has a great legacy," Kelly replied.

When did Endeavour first start service?

The maiden flight began on May 7, 1992, at 7:40 p.m. ET.

What was the primary goal of the mission?

During the nine-day mission, the crew's main task was to figure out how to snag and repair Intelsat VI, a non-functioning communications satellite. It took four attempts to work outside the spacecraft, but the team eventually restored the satellite to usefulness, allowing it to link up 120,000 simultaneous phone conversations after two years of silence.

What were some mission milestones?

The work to rescue Intelsat VI included an unprecedented spacewalk involving three people from the same spacecraft at the same time. The mission also logged the longest recorded spacewalk ever at the time, which clocked in at eight hours and 15 minutes.

The astronauts' successful repair of the satellite confirmed the value of sending people to space for repair missions.

Endeavour's landing was also the first time an orbiter deployed a drag chute.

Were there other notable achievements?

Over the course of 24 missions, crews conducted space lab experiments, including medical tests to assess the human body's performance in microgravity, and research into the production of protein crystals grown in microgravity.

Endeavour was also used in 1993 for the first servicing mission of the Hubble Space Telescope.

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The rotating service structure pulls away from the space shuttle Endeavour at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 15, 2011. (Chris O'Meara/Associated Press)

It flew on several International Space Station rendezvous missions, and carried the Canadian-built Dextre (Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator) robotics system to the ISS in 2008.

Why is Space Shuttle Endeavour being retired?

NASA had planned to scrap its Space Shuttle program after nearly 30 years of service in 2010. Three aging shuttles — Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour — were to be decommissioned in order to make way for the next generation of spacecraft. Retirement of the Space Shuttle system was later extended until 2011.

So far, only Discovery has been officially retired.

Atlantis is scheduled to take off on July 8, 2011, for the 135th and final shuttle mission.

Quick Facts:

  • In total, Endeavour orbited the Earth 4,671 times, 248 times during its final mission
  • It has also travelled 197,761,261 kilometres
  • The shuttle has spent 299 days in space since its first mission
  • Endeavour has transported 167 crew members into space.

Why was Endeavour's last flight delayed?

There were two delays.

First of all, Endeavour's final launch was delayed 10 days, after having been originally set to blast off on April 19. The reason for the delay was a possible "space traffic jam," as the earlier date would have meant the unmanned Russian orbiter Progress would be docking at the ISS while Endeavour was still there. Moving the launch date back resolved the scheduling conflict.  

Then on April 29, with the six astronauts en route to the launchpad, the launch was scrubbed. A heater system in the aft compartment for one of fuel lines was not working.

What will happen to the shuttle after it has been decommissioned?

Endeavour's next stop after being decommissioned will likely be the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Calif., where it will be put on public display as a showpiece.

The Canadarm, or Shuttle Remote Manipulator System, on the Endeavour has been earmarked for a Canadian museum. That Canadarm was the first one deployed, in 1981 on Space Shuttle Columbia.