Monday, February 08, 2010

Endeavour lights up Space Coast en route to ISS


CAPE CANAVERAL -- Space Shuttle Endeavour lit up the early morning sky over Kennedy Space Center on Monday, blasting off on a 13-day mission to the International Space Station.

The shuttle, carrying six astronauts, lifted off at 4:14 a.m. on its second attempt. Launch was scrubbed Sunday due to cloud cover over the launch pad.

"It's looking like the weather came together tonight," Launch Director Mike Leinbach told shuttle commander George Zamka. "The vehicle is in good shape...It's time to go fly."

Endeavour's mission is the first of the final five planned this year before the shuttle fleet retires after three decades of service.

After reviewing launch video, NASA officials said there were no apparent strikes from several pieces of insulating foam that cameras showed breaking away from Endeavour's orange external tank during the climb to orbit.

One piece about a foot long and quarter-inch thick tore away from a ridged section high up on the tank about two minutes into flight, a time when foam can strike the orbiter's underbelly or wings with damaging force.

"It didn't appear to impact the orbiter and we see no damage to the orbiter," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Space Operations.

Analysts in Houston will continue to review pictures of the heat shields, including hundreds that will be taken from the space station as Endeavour performs a backflip prior to docking around 1 a.m. Wednesday.

The mission the last major space station construction mission, hauling up the Tranquility module and a dome-shaped observation deck featuring seven windows.

The Italian-built module and attached "cupola" cost over $400 million and weigh 13.5 tons secured in the shuttle's payload bay.

Tranquility will house life support systems on the station's U.S. segment, including equipment for air and water purification, along with some exercise machines and a bathroom.

That relocated gear will free up space for research in the Destiny lab.

The cupola -- which will be moved from the module's end to its Earth-facing side during the mission -- will serve as a robotics station and offer panoramic views of home and outer space.

Once the new rooms are installed and activated with the help of three spacewalks and a series of robotic arm maneuvers, station construction will be 90 percent complete.

Like Monday morning's blastoff, most of the mission's work will take place while Americans are sleeping. Joining Zamka onboard were pilot Terry Virts, a first-time flyer, and veteran mission specialists Bob Behnken, Kay Hire, Nicholas Patrick and Steve Robinson.

The launch came a week after President Barack Obama's administration released their 2011 budget proposal for NASA, changing the way the space agency's course.

The proposal would kill the shuttle-replacement Constellation moon rocket program and push commercial aerospace companies to develop rockets that could carry astronauts to the space station.

IMAGES: Photos by Craig Bailey, Florida Today.


Tina said...

Just beautiful! The last night launch and there wasn't a dry eye in my group. Four more to go and we sure have a lot to be thankful for here on the Space Coast. Since the administration apprears to be setting Nasa's path, how are we in Brevard going to ensure some of those Commercial and private sector areospace companies base their operations in Brevard County? I like the idea of competition and maybe Nasa would be different today if competition were more in play for the past 20 years.

We missed a huge opportunity with the XPrize, we shouldn't let that happen again. Time to rally the little people because it doesn't appear the powers are on the side of Brevard County, Flordia, and maybe even our nation's place in space.

Anonymous said...

Did anybody notice that burn / scorch mark on the upper portion of the ET? Is that significant? How did it get there?

Rick Steele
Sarasota, Florida

Gaetano Marano said...

it seems the Shuttle had ET FOAM problems ... AGAIN ... despite there are only four Shuttle missions to fly, they will carry over 25 astronauts/LIVES aboard and a couple of billion$ of hardware, so, it could be STILL a good idea to TEST (and to adopt, if the test results are good) my $5000 idea to avoid the foam issue:

jjtinko said...

Wow, what an incredible launch it was. WOw.


Anonymous said...

It's depressing reading how this is the last of this and that is the last of that for the shuttle. I hate it. It won't affect me enjoying these last (see!) five missions, but I just hate the finality of all this, especially when I disagree with it.