Endeavour Finally Heads to Space
Delayed by almost a month, the space shuttle Endeavour hurtles toward the International Space Station after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. NASA is sending the seven-person Endeavour crew to push around 4.5 tons of equipment to complete Japan's Kibo outdoor laboratory.Maybe it was Mission Specialist Christopher Cassidy's rally cap or the hearty thumbs from astronaut Dave Wolf. Whatever the reason, the space shuttle Endeavour's seven-person crew put a month of bad luck behind them July 15, blasting off for a 16-day construction mission to the International Space Station.
While weather threatened the liftoff earlier in the day, the late afternoon clouds around Cape Canaveral cleared enough for Endeavour to hit its scheduled launch of 6:03 p.m. EDT and begin its 8.5-minute flight into space. Stormy Florida weather forced NASA to postpone launches on July 11, 12 and 13. In June, NASA twice scratched the mission due a launch pad hydrogen gas leak that has since been fixed.
"The weather is finally cooperating, and it is now time to fly," Launch Director Pete Nickolenko told the STS-127 astronauts as the mission received its final go for launch. "We're ready to go, and we're taking all of you with us on a great mission," Commander Mark Polansky radioed back.
Endeavour is now scheduled to arrive at the ISS July 17 and return to Earth July 31. Over the course of the mission, five spacewalks are scheduled to unload and install Japan's Kibo outdoor laboratory, a literal "front porch" for the ISS, allowing for space-exposed science experiments. The mission is second longest in shuttle history.
The mission also marks a more than doubling of the number of humans in space with the seven-person Endeavour crew joining the space station's current population of six astronauts. All five space agencies involved in the ISS-United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe-will have representatives at the space station.
Endeavour will arrive at the ISS with a cargo bay full of work that includes what Polansky calls "really big pieces of equipment" that are needed to complete Japan's Kibo laboratory complex. "It's a real exciting mission. We are the last mission that is taking up Japanese hardware on a space shuttle," Polansky said in a preflight interview.
Endeavour is carrying a complex platform that will complete the Kibo laboratory. The Japanese lab is made of three components: the pressurized module, which is an enclosed area that astronauts can work in without special suits; the logistics module that serves as a high-tech closet for equipment and experiments; and the exposed facility, which is the platform Endeavour is carrying.
Also inside Endeavour's cargo bay will be an integrated cargo carrier holding several pieces of spare equipment for the space station. Most of it-a spare space-to-ground antenna, a spare linear drive unit and a spare pump module-will be stored on an external storage platform on the station's truss. But six batteries for the station's oldest solar array will be installed.
Once the Endeavour reaches the ISS, things will be as busy inside the shuttle and space station as the spacewalkers, with all three of the available robotic arms being put to use, sometimes all on the same day. The shuttle's Canadarm and the station's Canadarm2 will be put through their regular paces for surveys, unloading cargo and moving equipment and spacewalkers around, and a new Japanese robotic arm will be making its debut to transfer science experiments.
"It's certainly really exciting for JAXA [Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency]," said Polansky. "For them, this is the last of their hardware that's going to be permanently attached to the space station. This completes their series."
The mission also marks another milestone for JAXA, with Japanese flight controllers on the ground operating their own berthing mechanisms for the first time. The Kibo external facility will never need to be connected to anything but a Japanese-built module, so the Japanese were free to use any berthing mechanism they wanted.
"Before, even when we had pieces of hardware that were built by someone else, we have, here in the U.S. control center, still maintained a lot of the technical leadership," said lead Station Flight Director Holly Ridings. "In this case, they truly have technical leadership for some of the things that must work to make the mission a success. It's unique."