Shuttle Launch Sets Off International Celebration

Shuttle Endeavour Rockets Toward Space Station
Endeavour and its seven-astronaut crew successfully left Earth at 2:28 a.m. EDT (0628 GMT), riding a towering column of white smoke in a rare night liftoff from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Led by commander Dominic Gorie, the STS-123 mission crew is now poised to catch up to the space station Wednesday night.
(Image: © NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.— Space shuttle Endeavour's successful launch not only lit up the predawnsky this morning, but also the faces of Japanese and Canadian members of theInternational Space Station (ISS) program.

The 100-ton orbiterpunctured a thin layer over clouds hanging over launch Pad 39A here at KennedySpace Center (KSC) at 2:28 a.m. EDT (0628 GMT) Tuesday morning, propellingseven astronauts into space along with two of the newest components of the spacestation: A two-armed Canadian robot and the first piece of Japan's three-partKibo laboratory.

"Iwould characterize this as the international year," said Bill Gerstenmaier,NASA's associate administrator for space operations, of Endeavour'smulti-national cargo and four remaining shuttle flights for 2008. "We're reallybringing our partners on board space station, we're learning to operate as aninternational team."

Commander Dominic Goriewill lead teh STS-123 crew on a record-breaking 16-day mission to the spacestation. During the first three of five planned spacewalks, astronauts willunberth and install the Japanese Logistics Pressurized module and piecetogether Dextre, a 1.72-tonrobot designed to reduce the number of dangerous spacewalks performed byastronauts.

"The addition ofDextre … to the International Space Station is visible proof to Canada's commitment to the future," said Guy Bujold, president of Canadian SpaceAgency (CSA). "Canadians from coast to coast to coast will be watching asthe crew of STS-123 and the station … lift Dextre out of payload bay to itsnew home in space."

Minor issues

Mike Leinbach, shuttlelaunch director, said Endeavour'slaunch was one of the smoothest in NASA history. Only cloudshanging about a mile over the launch pad, he said, was of any but little concern.

"Therewas no danger at all," Leinbach said of the cloud cover, but noted that itdid make filming Endeavour's ascent into space somewhat tricky. "The [launch]vehicle does disappear very quickly when the clouds are that low … buteverything was perfectly fine."

LeRoy Cain, chair of NASA'smission management team, said the space shuttle did suffer a cooling system failureand loss of a thruster-controlling electronics unit, but explained that backupsystems were turned on immediately after the glitches occurred.

"It's a loss ofredundancy," Cain said of the flash evaporator and thruster computerglitches. "In all likelihood we'll recover [those], and even if we don't recover[them] we can complete the mission nominally."

At the time of the earlymorning briefing at KSC, both Leinbach and Cain said that they had seen noworrisome debris impacting Endeavour's heat-resistant underbelly in launchvideo.

"We didn't see anythingthat caught our attention," Cain said of debris in launch footage. "[But]we will pore over that video data over the next several days."

Busy mission ahead

Flying with commander Gorieare pilot Gregory H. Johnson, mission specialists Robert Behnken, Mike Foreman,Rick Linnehan, Garrett Reisman and astronautTakao Doi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Shortly after reaching orbit,Gorie graduated the four rookie spaceflyers by upgrading their silver astronautwing pins to gold versions.

"We've got …folks on the flight deck that are out of uniform and we're swapping theastronaut wings," Gorie said.

The veteran spaceflyer willdock Endeavour at space station Wednesday night, after which the crew will kickoff nearly two weeks of orbital work to install Dextre and Japan's orbital closet, as the crew have called it.

Gerstenmaier said he can'twait to see theastronauts get to work.

"We're looking forwardto a very challenging time on orbit," Gerstenmaier said. "This isreally a neat time and the teams are ready."

Endeavour is slated tobegin surveying its thermally shielded underbelly this evening around 8:53 p.m.EDT (0053 GMT March 12), and should wrap up the work by 2:38 a.m. EDT (0638GMT). The 100-ton orbiter is slated to dock at the space station Wednesday at11:27 p.m. EDT (0327 GMT March 13).

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