CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Endeavour and its crew of six left the International Space Station and headed home to close out NASA’s next-to-last shuttle flight, pausing just long enough yesterday to perform a victory lap and test equipment for a future interplanetary ship.
The space station crew beamed down video of the departing shuttle, the last ever shot of Endeavour in orbit. It was a dark, solitary image against the blue, cloud-covered Earth and grew increasingly smaller.
NASA’s youngest shuttle — the baby of the fleet with just 25 space voyages — is due back in Florida early tomorrow. Its next stop after that will be a museum in Los Angeles for what some consider to be an early retirement.
Atlantis will make one last trip to the space station this summer to close out the 30-year shuttle program. Atlantis will begin the 3-mile trek from the hangar to the launch pad, also scheduled for tomorrow.
Endeavour undocked close to midnight yesterday, ending 11 1/2 days of joint flight. The two spacecraft were soaring more than 200 miles above Bolivia when they parted.
“We’re the ones that get to see this incredible view, but you’re all with us in spirit,’’ shuttle commander Mark Kelly told Mission Control.