After 15 days in orbit, the crew of the space shuttle Endeavour will be returning to solid ground tomorrow. Their mission has been notable for several reasons: It's the second-to-last NASA space shuttle mission ever, and the last trip Endeavour will take before heading to its retirement home in a Los Angeles museum. The commander of the mission is Mark Kelly, husband of almost-assassinated Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The shuttle's crew successfully delivered the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), an extremely expensive piece of particle physics equipment, to the International Space Station.
And, of course, there are some squid on board. I wrote earlier about Squids in Space, a project to study whether friendly, glowing bacteria that live inside squid behave badly in a low-gravity environment.
I also asked you all to go to YouTube and vote for a question I'd submitted for the PBS News Hour's "You Talk to Endeavour" interview. There were more than 1,800 questions submitted by the public. My question was about the future: What will it mean to be an astronaut in 25 years or so, when today's teen space fanatics have joined the space program? I was hoping to use the answer in my magazine, and I got enough votes to stay near the top of the pack (thank you!). The interview took place on May 19. Hi, astronauts!
I think being in space gives people a slightly jolly appearance, since their cheeks float up into their faces a little bit.
Sadly, PBS science correspondent Miles O'Brien--yes, like the Star Trek character--didn't include my question in his interview with the Endeavour crew. But he did have a nice conversation with the astronauts about the Mississippi River (they could see the floodwaters), Gabby Giffords (she watched the launch), and personal trinkets the astronauts take into space.
He also asked the astronauts to do a group somersault. Judging by the speed with which they complied--the question was barely out of O'Brien's mouth before Mark Kelly went heels-over-head--I suspect they've practiced.
They may as well live it up now. Gravity returns tomorrow, along with the reality of the shuttle fleet's retirement. But the science experiments the crew helped with will carry on without them, including the AMS's cosmic-ray measuring and whatever happened to those squid. As for NASA, we'll see where it heads next.
Images: Google/PBS NewsHour/YouTube