Delayed Endeavour carries Japanese lab to International Space Station

Friday, July 17, 2009

Commander Mark Polansky checks the fit of his helmet before heading to Launch Pad 39A (Photo:NASA/ Kim Shiflett, 15 July, 2009).

Space Shuttle Endeavour launched on a mission to finish construction of a new science lab at the International Space Station on July 15.

The seven astronauts aboard Endeavour began their journey Wednesday evening to deliver the third and final segment of the Japanese Kibō science laboratory. NASA commentator Mike Curie counted down to the liftoff from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"We have main engine start, and four, three, two, one. Booster ignition and liftoff of Endeavour, completing Kibō and fulfilling Japan's hope for an out-of-this-world space laboratory," he said.

Endeavour liftoff from Kennedy Space Center (Video: NASA, 15 July, 2009).

The Endeavour was supposed to have launched last month, but a hydrogen leak forced officials to postpone while technicians fixed the problem. A series of thunderstorms caused further delays this week.

The Endeavour crew will spend nearly two weeks at the station to install the Kibō lab and perform other maintenance tasks, such as swapping out batteries in the station. The Kibō module will expand work space on the station and allow astronauts to conduct experiments that involve exposing materials to the vacuum of space.

Astronaut Timothy L. Kopra will replace Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, who has been living aboard the station since March.

While the shuttle is docked to the station, there will be 13 astronauts working in space at one time - the highest number in the station's history.

After Endeavour returns to Earth, only seven shuttle missions will remain before NASA plans to retire the fleet next year.

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