CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - The shuttle Endeavour and seven NASA astronauts are clearedfor their planned Friday night launch toward the International Space Station,mission managers said Tuesday.
Endeavouris poisedto blast off from its seaside launch pad here at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center(KSC) on Nov. 14 at 7:55 p.m. EST (0055 Nov. 15 GMT) on a busy mission to primethe station for larger, six-person crews. The potential for thick clouds and nearbyrain showers still plague the planned space shot, though Endeavour has a 60percent chance of favorable launch weather.
"We'reready to go," said LeRoy Cain, chair of Endeavour?s mission management team, ina status briefing. "The vehicle and crew and ground teams have prepared veryhard for this mission."
Commandedby veteran spaceflyer Chris Ferguson, Endeavour's STS-126 crew is preparing fora planned15-day mission to the space station. Astronauts plan to swap out one memberof the outpost?s three-person crew and perform four spacewalks to clean andgrease up a damaged solar array joint during their orbital stay.
Endeavouris haulinga spare space toilet, second kitchen, new exercise equipment and a waterrecovery system designed to recycle urine into potable water. The firstrefrigerator to chill drinks and food for station crewmembers is also aboardthe shuttle.
Set tolaunch towardthe station with Ferguson are shuttle pilot Eric Boe and mission specialistsDon Pettit, Steve Bowen, Heidi Stefanyshyn-Piper, Shane Kimbrough and SandraMagnus. Magnus will replace NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff aboard the station aspart of the outpost?s Expedition 18 crew. The astronauts arrived at theirlaunch site here late Monday after taking an aerial look at Endeavour atop thelaunch pad.
"It looksgood on the pad and we?re very excited about getting up to orbit,"Stefanyshyn-Piper said.
The weatherforecast for the Friday night launch remains dicey, with nearby rain showerswithin 20 miles (32 km) of the launch site and thick clouds posing the onlyconcerns, said Kathy Winters, NASA?s shuttle weather officer. A weather frontis expected to arrive over the spaceport late this week, she added.
"Right now,weather is looking a little bit marginal with a 40 percent chance of KSCweather preventing launch," Winters said.
The weatheron Saturday is even worse, with Endeavour sporting just a 40 percent chance ofgood launch weather, she added.
NASA mustlaunch Endeavour by Nov. 25 to avoid unfavorable heating and sun angles at theInternational Space Station. Mission managers would prefer, however, to launchthe shuttle by Nov. 21 to avoid docking conflicts with the unmanned RussianProgress 31 cargo ship, which is currently slated to arrive at the station onNov. 30.
Endeavour?sSTS-126 mission will mark NASA?s fourth shuttle flight of the year, the most ina single year since 2002. It is also the second night launch of 2008 for NASA?sshuttle fleet, and Endeavour in particular. The shuttle last lifted off indarkness during its STS-123 mission in March.
About 31 ofNASA?s 123 shuttle missions to date have launched in darkness to light upthe Florida sky.
"Nightlaunches are special," said Mike Leinbach, NASA?s shuttle launch director. "Theysure are."
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