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Endeavour headed back to Earth for its final landing -- and then retirement in Los Angeles

May 31, 2011 |  3:24 pm

NASA Endeavour before undocking from the international space station 5-30-11

The space shuttle Endeavour is due to return to Earth for the last time late Tuesday evening, Pacific time, ending its 25th space flight.

Here in this NASA photo taken during one of Endeavour's last nights out of this world from the International Space Station, you can see the docked shuttle's left wing in the upper right. Beyond that is Earth's atmosphere about 200 miles below and the ribbon of light of an approaching dawn.

Take a close look at the night sky, however. A whole lot more stars than any of us ground-bounders are ever able to see through that same atmosphere.

The sturdy Endeavour vehicle will have traveled 122.8 million miles in those journeys during 299 days in space. After one more shuttle flight, the U.S. will rent seats on Russian rockets for U.S. astronauts.

After official retirement, Endeavour will travel a couple thousand more miles to go on permanent display at the Cailfornia Science Center in Los Angeles, a little over 100 miles from Edwards Air Force Base where returning shuttles sometimes landed. Discovery is headed for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, which always gets something historic.

The prototype Enterprise will go to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City, which had virtually nothing to do with the space program.

After its final flight scheduled for July, the 135th of the program, the shuttle Atlantis will stay at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where all the flights launched.

Houston, headquarters and training center for NASA's entire manned space program, gets nada, an Obama administration decision that retired Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan called "politics over history."

Family members of the lost Challenger and Columbia crews also bemoaned the decision to leave the manned space program's homestate of Texas shuttle-less.

Related:

Obama's new space policy: Down to Earth

Obama on future space exploration: Yes, but....

Ticket pic of the Week: an Endeavour out of this world

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: NASA

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