Endeavor takes last flight before retirement

Published 3:22 pm Thursday, September 20, 2012

Space enthusiasts from across south Mississippi gathered at John C. Stennis Space Center to witness the last flight of Space Shuttle Endeavor.

Stennis News Chief Paul Foreman said Wednesday’s flyover would be the last time the shuttle would be airborne as it was carried to its final destination at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

Every engine used on a space shuttle mission was tested and certified at the Hancock County testing facility, and Foreman said not a single one of the 135 missions in the more than 30 years of the program was scrapped due to an engine failure.

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Testing of shuttle main engines began at Stennis in 1975. Stennis was initially constructed in the 1960s to test engines used in the Apollo program.

Five shuttles were constructed, and three remain intact today, but were retired with the close of the Space Shuttle Program last year. A prototype was also constructed, the Enterprise, to test the shuttle’s landing capability, but never went into orbit. Challenger and Columbia were destroyed in disasters that took the lives of their crews and each disaster put the shuttle program on hold temporarily as investigations into the disaster took place. Atlantis is already at its new home at Kennedy Space Center, and Discovery is on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Foreman said.

The public came out in numbers for Wednesday’s historic event. Members of the public that wanted to view the flyover in Mississippi first had to visit the newly opened INFINITY Science Center in Hancock County before being bused into Stennis. Many brought cameras to capture the moment it flew over.

Lasting less than a minute, the flyover elicited cheers as the shuttle passed out of view. Many Stennis staff members involved in testing shuttle main engines or who work on site in other capacities also came out to see the event. The shuttle was carried piggy back on a  modified Boeing 747, flying at just above 1,500 feet.