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Countdown Going Well for Sunday Shuttle Launch

Astronauts Ready for Shuttle Launch Amid NASA Uncertainty
A transport container (left) with the Tranquility module and Cupola is hoisted into position at Launch Pad 39A for installation inside the cargo bay of the waiting shuttle Endeavour on Monday, Jan. 18, 2010. Launch of the STS-130 mission is set for Feb. 7. (Image credit: NASA/KSC.)

NASA has begun counting down toward the planned predawnlaunch of the space shuttle Endeavour on Sunday.

Endeavour is poised to blast off from the Kennedy Space Center in Floridaon Sunday morning at 4:39 a.m. EST (0939 GMT) to deliver a brand-new room andobservation portal to the International Space Station. ?The clocks beganticking down toward launch time early this morning.

?We?re right on schedule, where we?re supposed to be,? saidNASA test director Jeff Spaulding during a Thursday status briefing.

There is a 70 percent chance of good weather for Endeavour?slaunch. The potential for high winds is the only concern, shuttle weatherofficials said.

Commanded by veteran spaceflyer George Zamka, Endeavour?ssix-astronaut crewplans to fly a 13-day mission to deliver the space station?s new Tranquilitymodule and a seven-window portal called the Cupola.

Tranquility is named in honor of NASA?s historic Apollo11 moon landing site and will house vital life support equipment, exercise gearand a robotic arm work station. The Cupola is a long-awaited window fixture thatpromises to give astronauts their best view yet on space and the Earth below.

Three spacewalks are planned to install the station?s newadditions, which will leave the $100 billion orbiting laboratory nearlycomplete after more than 11 years of construction.

NASA hopes to loft the shuttle mission on schedule toclear the way for the planned Feb. 9 launch of an unmanned rocket carrying thenew Solar Dynamics Observatory, a sun-watching probe, into orbit.

Endeavour?s upcoming launch is the first of NASA?s fivefinal shuttle missions before the shuttles are retired later this year. It is expectedto be the last shuttle flight ever to liftoff at night since the orbiter fleet began launching in 1981.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.