May 30, 2011 -- Endeavour and its crew departed the International Space Station late Sunday and headed back to Earth in one of NASA's final shuttle flights.
This was the 134th space shuttle flight and the 25th and final flight for Endeavour. When the shuttle lands after its 16-day mission it will have 122,883,151 miles on its odometer.
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"Fair winds and following seas, guys," said space station resident Ronald Garan, Jr. as he rang out the ship's bell.
"Appreciate the help," responded the ship's commander Mark Kelly.
The shuttle is scheduled to return to Earth early Wednesday and will be retired to a California museum. Before leaving the station the crew took photos and also planned a test for a navigation system intended for future spacecraft.
Kelly got a special musical send-off from his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who is recovering in Houston from a gunshot wound to the head. The song, called "Slowness" by the Tucson, Ariz., band Calexico, is about two people reaching across the distance. It also references several places in Tucson, Giffords' hometown.
"I know she really, really wants to get back there," he radioed. "It's an appropriate song because that's coming soon."
NASA arranged for a videoconference between Giffords and Kelly so they would be able to see each other. Kelly was able to keep informed of his wife's condition by using the Internet phone aboard the space station.
Giffords is not expected to attend the shuttle landing since it is scheduled to dock at 2:35 a.m. at the Kennedy Space Center.
The other members of the crew were Greg Johnson, who piloted the mission, spacewalkers Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori was in charge of robotics.
Endeavour Docks for the Final Time after 25 Missions
Kelly was the last of the crew to leave the space station. He lingered for a few moments with the three residents of the space station.
"We're looking forward to getting home," Kelly said, "and we're going to leave these guys to some peace and quiet and not disturb their space station any more."
Endeavour delivered a $2 billion cosmic ray detector that will remain on the space station for the next decade. The cosmic ray detetcor is searching for antimatter and dark matter which scientists hope will shed light on the origins of the universe.
Kelly and his crew also provided the space station with spare parts and an extension boom for future repair work, and they worked on critical life-support systems inside the station.
In its past missions Endeavour and its crew repaired and disabled satellites, flew medical experiments and flew the only crew that performed a three-person spacewalk. It also flew into high orbit -- something engineers weren't sure it could do -- to repair the crippled Hubble Space Telescope.
Only one more shuttle flight remains for NASA. Atlantis will depart on July 8 with a load of supplies to close out the 30-year shuttle program.