NASA Targets June 13 Launch for Shuttle Endeavour
This story was updated at 6:31 p.m. EDT.
NASA?s space shuttle Endeavour is officially set to blast off toward the International Space Station on June 13 to finish work on the $100 billion outpost?s massive Japanese lab.
Shuttle mission managers on Wednesday approved plans to launch Endeavour on a marathon station construction flight at 7:17 a.m. EDT (1117 GMT) on June 13, nearly three weeks after the successful return of its sister ship Atlantis from the Hubble Space Telescope.
?We?re getting pretty darn close to kicking this mission off next Saturday,? Endeavour?s commander Mark Polansky told reporters today at the shuttle?s launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla. ?We?re excited about the work we?re going to do.?
Finishing Japan?s space ?hope?
Polansky?s six-man, one-woman crew is poised to lift off from a seaside launch pad at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center to deliver a porch-like external platform for the space station?s massive Japanese laboratory Kibo, which means ?Hope? in English. ?
The $1 billion Kibo lab is the space station?s largest room, about the size of a tour bus, and currently sports an attic-like storage module, small airlock and robotic arm. The new platform will be attached to the lab?s exterior to expose experiments and materials to space for long duration studies.
Five intricate spacewalks and complicated maneuvers with three different robotic arms are planned during the 16-day mission, which will tie the record for the longest station-bound mission to date.
?This mission is unbelievably complex,? said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA?s space operations chief, in a televised briefing late Wednesday. ?It?ll be a very challenging mission for the team.?
The spaceflight, NASA?s third shuttle mission of the year, is also the first to send seven astronauts to the space station since the outpost doubled its permanent crew size to six people last week. When Endeavour arrives, 13 people will live and work aboard the station - the most ever aboard the orbital outpost.
?It?s just a really good mix of folks and I think we?re going to work well together as a team,? said Endeavour astronaut Tim Kopra from the launch pad.
Kopra will replace Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata as a member of the space station?s six-man crew after Endeavour arrives. Wakata, who has lived aboard the station since March, is Japan?s first long-term resident of the orbital laboratory and due to return home in late June aboard Endeavour.
Endeavour?s STS-127 astronaut crew will climb aboard the shuttle on Thursday for a launch dress rehearsal at the Kennedy Space Center. They will cap the launch simulation with an emergency escape drill before returning home to NASA?s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
NASA has a slim three-day window in which to launch Endeavour to the station before standing down to allow an unmanned moon probe, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the attached LCROSS impactor, to blast off on June 17 from the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
If the shuttle does not launch by June 15, it could try again four of five days later, but only of the moon-bound mission lifts off on time. If Endeavour is unable to fly in June, it would have to wait until July 11 when sun angles at the space station are more favorable, mission managers said.
Pete Nickolenko, launch director for Endeavour?s flight, said the schedule is tight, with no reserve days to deal with unexpected glitches. On Sunday, the shuttle moved to its current seaside Launch Pad 39A from the nearby Pad 39B, where it had been on standby to fly a rescue mission for Atlantis? Hubble telescope service call in case of an emergency.
While no space rescue was required, the effort to prime Endeavour for flight streamlined the work required for its current mission to the station, said Nickolenko. As long as the Florida weather cooperates, the shuttle should be ready for its June 13 launch, he added.
?I think we?re running on all cylinders, in my mind ? we?re hitting our strides,? Nickolenko said. ?It?s all rapid-paced, but it?s all doable, manageable. The teams are seasoned, but I believe that they?re focused.?
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