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Shuttle Endeavour blasts off to begin longest space station mission

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Shuttle Endeavour blasts off to begin longest space station mission

launchnewsShuttle Endeavour and a  crew of seven blasted into orbit today on what was to be the longest space station mission ever, a 16-day voyage to build a  gangly Canadian robot and add a new room that will serve as a  closet for a future lab.


March 11, 2008
By Carey Fredericks
 launch-425
Image above: Space shuttle Endeavour
lifts off its launch pad at 2:28 a.m. EDT to start the STS-123 mission
to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

March 11, 2008, Cape Canaveral, FLA -Shuttle Endeavour and a
crew of seven blasted into orbit Tuesday on what was to be the
longest space station mission ever, a 16-day voyage to build a
gangly Canadian robot and add a new room that will serve as a
closet for a future lab.

The space shuttle roared from its seaside pad at 2:28 a.m.,
lighting up the sky for kilometres around as it took off.

"It's a spectacular night launch,'' said Minister of Industry
Jim Prentice, who attended the launch at the Kennedy Space Centre.

"The Endeavour just explodes off the launch pad and into the
atmosphere and it illuminates not just the night sky but really the
entire Kennedy Space Centre for dozens of miles around,'' Prentice
told The Canadian Press by telephone just minutes after the launch.

Canada's latest contribution to the International Space Station,
named Dextre, is a two-armed specialized robot that will play a
critical role in operations and maintenance outside the Station.

It can remove and replace components that require precise
handling, reducing the amount of time that astronauts must spend
outside the Station and leaving them more time to perform scientific
experiments aboard the space laboratory.

The night-time launch was a rare treat: The last time NASA
launched a shuttle at night-time was in 2006. Only about a quarter
of shuttle flights have begun in darkness.

"Good luck and Godspeed, and we'll see you back here in 16
days,'' launch director Mike Leinbach radioed to the astronauts
right before liftoff.

"Banzai,'' replied Endeavour's commander, Dominic Gorie, using a
Japanese exclamation of joy. "God truly has blessed us with a
beautiful night here, Mike, to launch, so let's light them up and
give Him a show.''

They did. The shuttle took flight with a flash of light, giving a
peach-yellow glow to the low clouds just offshore before
disappearing into the darkness.

"We were 3.5 miles (about 5.6 kilometres) away in a modern
Kennedy Space Centre building and the building itself was shaking,''
said Prentice, adding that he was "struck'' by the close
co-operation between the scientists from different countries.

"You're really struck by not just the scientific and technical
energy but also the human energy associated with the launch,'' he
said.

"To be here and see the Americans working together with the
Canadians and the Japanese all associated with this launch and this
payload is really something quite moving to see.''

Endeavour's countdown was the smoothest in years, officials said.
Shortly after liftoff, however, the astronauts had to deal with a
couple of problems that ended up being minor. They got alert
messages for some of their ship's steering thrusters, but it turned
out to be a bad electronics card. Then the primary cooling system
failed, and they had to switch to the backup.

A cursory look at the initial launch images _ fewer than usual
because of the nighttime launch _ showed only one significant loss
of debris from the external fuel tank 83 seconds into the flight.
But it appeared to miss the right wing.

Gorie and his crew face a daunting job once they reach the
international space station late Wednesday night. The astronauts
will perform five spacewalks, the most ever planned during a shuttle
visit.

Dextre, built at the cost of about $207 million, will join the
space station's Canadian-built robot arm, already in orbit for seven
years.

The overall cost of Canada's participation in the International
Space Station so far is about $1.4 billion.

"In effect Canada has been one of the leading nations in the
development of the international space station and launching Dextre
successfully today is a milestone for Canada's space agency and for
what we've accomplished as a nation,'' said Prentice.

The Japanese Space Agency sent up the first part of its massive
Kibo lab, a storage compartment for experiments, tools and spare
parts.

For the first time since space station construction began nearly
10 years ago, all five major partners were about to own a piece of
the orbiting real estate.

Canada is a partner in the International Space Station with the
United States, Russia, Japan, and the European Space Agency. Once
complete, the Station will be the largest space science and
engineering project ever undertaken, covering an area as large as a
Canadian football field.

The launch of the first section of Kibo, or Hope, finally
propelled Japan into the space station action.

"Our Japanese people have been waiting for a very long, long
time,'' said Yoshiyuki Hasegawa, the Japanese Space Agency's station
program manager.

Preliminary design work for Kibo (pronounced KEE'-boh) began in
1990. Space station construction, however, was stalled over the
years for various reasons, most recently the 2003 Columbia tragedy.

The main part of the Kibo lab will fly on the next shuttle
mission in May, with the final instalment, a porch for outdoor
experiments, going up next year.

Altogether, the Japanese Space Agency has invested about $6.7
billion in the space station program, including a Kibo control
centre near Tokyo.

In addition to working with their international payloads,
Endeavour's astronauts will try out a caulking gun and high-tech goo
on deliberately damaged shuttle thermal tile samples. The test –
part of NASA's ongoing post-Columbia safety effort – should have
been performed last year, but was put off because of emergency space
station repairs.

Astronaut Garrett Reisman will stay behind on the space station
until June, swapping places with a Frenchman who accompanied
Europe's Columbus lab into orbit in February.

A Japanese astronaut is also part of Endeavour's all-male crew.

It is the second of six planned shuttle missions this year, all
but one to the space station. NASA faces a 2010 deadline for
finishing the station and retiring its shuttles.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
-With files from The Canadian Press.