NASA’s last space shuttle to take wing to its retirement home

Posted at 6:28 AM, Sep 19, 2012
and last updated 2012-09-19 07:54:32-04

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) — NASA managers will conduct a final review of space shuttle Endeavour early Wednesday before sending it on a cross-country flight from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Los Angeles, where the now-retired spacecraft will be put on display.

Endeavour, along with Discovery and Atlantis, became museum pieces after NASA ended its 30-year shuttle program on July 21, 2011.

Two other shuttles — Challenger and Columbia — were destroyed in tragic accidents, costing the lives of all on board. Challenger exploded shortly after launch, while Columbia broke apart upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA delayed Endeavour's piggyback trek to its retirement home by two days, after inclement weather on Monday and a poor forecast on Tuesday.

But by Wednesday morning's 7:15 a.m. EDT launch time, the cold front that had kicked up storms over the Gulf Coast "is predicted to move far enough away from the flight path to permit takeoff," according to NASA's website.

NASA expects space shuttle Endeavour to draw crowds of onlookers as it passes over space centers in three states and make stops along its way to Los Angeles, where it is scheduled to arrive on Friday.

Named for the first ship commanded by British explorer James Cook, Endeavor rolled out of the assembly plant in Palmdale, California, in 1991 at a cost of $1.7 billion. It was the baby of the shuttle fleet, built as a replacement for the ill-fated Challenger, which tore apart less than two minutes after liftoff in January 1986.

Over the next 20 years, Endeavour flew some of the most high-profile shuttle missions in history, covering 25 flights and nearly 123 million miles. It flew a spacelab mission and numerous International Space Station assembly missions and also rendezvoused with Russia's Mir Space Station.

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