Endeavour, the last addition to the orbiter fleet, is named after the first ship commanded by James Cook, the 18th century British explorer, navigator and astronomer. On Endeavours maiden voyage in August 1768, Cook sailed to the South Pacific (to observe and record the infrequent event of the planet Venus passing between the Earth and the sun). Determining the transit of Venus enabled early astronomers to find the distance of the sun from the Earth, which then could be used as a unit of measurement in calculating the parameters of the universe. In 1769, Cook was the first person to fully chart New Zealand (which was previously visited in 1642 by the Dutchman Abel Tasman from the Dutch province of Groningen). Cook also surveyed the eastern coast of Australia , navigated the Great Barrier Reef and traveled to Hawaii.
Cooks voyage on the Endeavour also established the usefulness of sending scientists on voyages of exploration. While sailing with Cook, naturalist Joseph Banks and Carl Solander collected many new families and species of plants, and encountered numerous new species of animals.
Endeavour and her crew reportedly made the first long-distance voyage on which no crewman died from scurvy, the dietary disease caused by lack of ascorbic acids. Cook is credited with being the first captain to use diet as a cure for scurvy, when he made his crew eat cress, sauerkraut and an orange extract.
The Endeavour was small at about 368 tons, 100 feet in length and 20 feet in width. In contrast, its modern day namesake is 78 tons, 122 feet in length and 78 feet wide. The Endeavour of Captain Cooks day had a round bluff bow and a flat bottom. The ships career ended on a reef along Rhode Island.
For the first time, a national competition involving students in elementary and secondary schools produced the name of the new orbiter; it was announced by President George Bush in 1989. The Space Shuttle orbiter Endeavour was delivered to Kennedy Space Center in May 1991, and flew its first mission, highlighted by the dramatic rescue of a stranded communications satellite, a year later in May 1992.
In the day-to-day world of Shuttle operations and processing, Space Shuttle orbiters go by a more prosaic designation. Endeavour is commonly refered to as OV-105, for Orbiter Vehicle-105. Empty Weight was 151,205 lbs at rollout and 172,000 lbs with main engines installed.