Shuttle Endeavour launched to space station after month’s delay

July 15, 2009

Endeavour will be docking with the International Space Station Friday afternoon if all goes as scheduled. Beside installing the $1bn Japanese Kibo lab module, during the 16-day mission, the astronauts will be very busy, with five spacewalks, replacing aging solar-array batteries, and delivering critical spare parts and components, to hedge against failures after the shuttle is retired next year. One of the reasons the space shuttles will be retired is the unresolved engineering issues of debris potentially striking the delicate heat shields that doomed the Columbia flight in 2001. Once again several pieces of debris, possibly foam insulation or ice, appeared to fall away from the external fuel tank and at least one hit the orbiter. Additional debris events were seen as the shuttle continued its climb out of the discernible atmosphere. As with all shuttle launchings, engineers will need a few days to evaluate to see if any damage was caused that might pose a danger to the Endeavour on re-entry.

The commander of the Endeavour mission is Mark L. Polansky, and the pilot is Douglas G. Hurley. The able crew also consists of Christopher J. Cassidy, Timothy L. Kopra, Thomas H. Marshburn and David A. Wolf, all of NASA, and Julie Payette of the Canadian Space Agency. The space station will be at full capacity, hosting a combined crew of 13, with the six full-time station astronauts and seven shuttle visitors, putting the lab’s life support systems, including its new water recycling system, toilets, oxygen generators, and carbon dioxide scrubbers, to the test.


Photo: courtesy NASA TV


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