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  • On The Way!
    Posted by Frank Morring, Jr. 9:30 AM on Feb 08, 2010

    Endeavour, NASA's youngest space shuttle, became the final orbiter to lift off at night with its launch to the the International Space Station this morning.

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    Built as a replacement after the shuttle Challenger was lost on launch in 1986, Endeavour arched into space through breaks in the predawn cloud cover over Kennedy Space Center that forced a 24-hour delay Saturday night. In its payload bay is the last European pressurized module for the ISS

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    Liftoff for the STS-130 mission came at 4:14 a.m. EST, and Endeavour's six-member crew reached space a little more than eight minutes later after an ascent up the East Coast of the U.S. as it streaked north toward the station's high-inclination orbit.

    "We'll see you in a couple of weeks; it's time to go fly," radioed mission Commander George Zamka.

    Over the next two weeks Endeavour's crew -- Commander George Zamka; pilot Terry Virts, and mission specialists Kay Hire, Steve Robinson, Nicholas Patrick and Bob Behnken -- will join the five-man ISS crew in installing and outfitting the Italian-built Tranquility pressurized node.

    Once it is berthed on one side of the Unity node that links the station's Russian elements to the rest of the station, Tranquility will house life support and exercise equipment, a toilet and the long-awaited station cupola. Also built by Thales Alenia in Turin, Italy, the cupola will give station crew members a 360-degree view of the surrounding heavens through seven windows - six on the sides and one on top.

    Because of the launch's timing, the combined crews will be working what would be the deep-overnight shift in the U.S. They will spend Flight Day 2 in the now routine inspection of the reinforced carbon-carbon nose cap and wing leading edges on the orbiter with the robotic arm and a 50-foot-long extender to ensure they escaped damage during ascent.

    Docking is set to occur early Wednesday, after Zamka and Virts fly Endeavour through a full back-flip "rendezvous pitch maneuver" so the station crew can photo-document the post-launch condition of its belly tiles  for damage analysis at Johnson Space Center.

    Patrick and Behnken plan to conduct three spacewalks during their stay at the station to connect the node and cupola to the ISS electrical and cooling systems, and carry out other outside chores as the orbiting laboratory nears completion.

    If all goes as planned, Endeavour is scheduled to return to Kennedy on Saturday night, Feb. 20, although managers say an extra day built into the schedule for contingencies may be used to give the crews more time to test the lift support gear that will go into the new node.

    Tags: os99, STS130, Endeavour, ISS, launch

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