NASA’s Endeavour blasts off in final flight

NASA space shuttle Endeavour lifts off from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 16, 2011 in Cape Canaveral, Florida (AFP Photo / Getty Images)
The second-to-the-last US shuttle flight is on its way to the International Space Station with a crew of five American astronauts and one Italian astronaut.

Endeavour was built to replace Challenger, which was lost in a tragic accident in 1986, and first flew in 1992.

The shuttle Endeavour is commanded by Commander Mark Kelly, the husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded by a shot to the head in a shooting at a political event in her home state of Arizona.

Giffords, who has been undergoing rehab, was in attendance for the launch. Her doctors have called her recovery astonishing.

This is the second-to-last shuttle take off, as the program will be retired shortly. Following failed attempts by NASA to produce a shuttle program replacement, the goal is to now outsource space travel to private companies and work with other national space programs – such as those in Russia and the European Union. At present a number of companies are awaiting final approval from NASA to take over certain cargo and transport operations to the ISS.