AFP reports that the space shuttle Endeavor has successfully cleared the International Space Station and is on its way home. Endeavor is due back at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Sunday November 30th, 2008, 1818 GMT.
Endeavor has been at the International Space Station since November 16th, 2008, and stayed for an 11-day, 16-hour and 45-minute visit which just missed the record by four hours.
Prior to leaving, the seven-member crew of the shuttle had a traditional Thanksgiving meal with the permanent 3-man crew of the ISS.
The original reason for the mission was for the astronauts to repair the ISS’s rotating solar panels that capture energy for the space outpost. This was accomplished via four space walks in which the astronauts did successfully repair its jammed joints.
While the Endeavor is now poised to come home they still have some tidying up to do.
They have already made a 200-meter pass at the ISS so the orbiter could be filmed.
The pictures will indicate whether or not there is damage to the wings or nose from floating space debris. Once this has been assessed by Houston, the Endeavor will be given the green light to come home.
The Endeavor was forced to stay a day longer because there was a problem with a piece of high-tech equipment that recycles used water, perspiration and urine back into drinkable water to aid in space station survival.
A sample of the completed cycle is being returned to earth.
I reported the Endeavor’s intent in an article on Associated Content November 14, 2008. In that article I said that Endeavor was the ship that followed Challenger, the space shuttle that exploded in 1986.
It is easy to forget that the Space Program is the descendant of the “Space Race”. I can recall this situation when President John F. Kennedy urged competition with Russia to get a man on the moon by the end of the 1960’s.
I was born right in the middle of the Cold War which was the period from 1940 to 1960 when the U.S. and USSR competed in many ways in an atmosphere of tension and conflict.
At the time of Kennedy’s comments, Russia was ahead of the U.S. in the race but we soon caught up.
It is interesting to see the positive results of a space flight from the United States to an International Space Station. It is great to see the development from something that started as an isolated and potentially dangerous program to one that has global participation and at least nominally is used for peace.