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Endeavour launched for record 16-day mission

11 March 2008

Space shuttle Endeavour blasted off on March 11, 2008, at 2.28 AM local time. Endeavour is carrying equipment for the International Space Station (ISS). This is Endeavour's longest mission, that of 16 days, to the ISS and the first night time launch in two years. Earlier on March 10, 2008, the external fuel tanks of the Endeavour were filled.

Around  8 minutes after lift off, Endeavour reached a top speed of just over 17,000 miles per hour.

Endeavour will take the first part of a Japanese space lab to the ISS during the 16-day mission.

Endeavour's seven-man crew will deliver a storage compartment, the first part of a Japanese lab, Kibo, and a Canadian two-armed robot designed to carry out repairs outside the orbiting spaceship. Two other shuttle flights will be required to deliver all the lab installments. The Kibo that will cost $2.4bn to build has been in the works since 1990 but construction was stalled after the 2003 Columbia tragedy.

Apart from unloading the Japanese lab component, Endeavour's shuttle crew will also install the two-armed robot, Dextre. Dextre, which has two 11ft long arms, will be used to fix components outside the station, and also repair them. Dextre's arms have joints that aid movement and the robot can also pivot at the waist. Dextre will be able to perform tasks such as replace batteries outside the station, which may be dangerous for the astronauts.

The Endeavour crew will also try to test and repair the shuttle's exterior. The crew will use a caulking gun to apply a sticky substance to deliberately damaged thermal tiles. These are tiles that get damaged due to falling ice and debris during launch. These tests were meant to be carried out earlier but were delayed due to critical repairs needed.

Apart from Endeavour, the space station will also have Europe's Columbus space lab and a module called Destiny that has been around since 2001. Europe's first cargo ship Jules Verne, an unmanned Automated Transfer Vehicle, will dock at the ISS after Endeavour leaves. Jules Verne, which will carry 4.6 tonnes of cargo, is first of the six transport vehicles promised by Europe.

NASA plans to finish assembling the space station by 2010 after which the three space shuttles will be retired. Endeavour's 16-day mission is part of the plan. Once the shuttles are retired, NASA will have no vehicles to carry cargo to the space stations for at least five years. Jules Verne is expected to fill the gap.

The remaining four shuttle launches planned for 2008 are:

  • 25 May, 2008. Discovery will deliver the second Kibo lab component
  • 28 August, 2008. Atlantis will service the Hubble Space Telescope
  • 16 October, 2008. Endeavour will undertake a cargo flight
  • 4 December, 2008. Discovery will deliver and unload the fourth starboard backbone segmentand the fourth set of solar arrays and batteries





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