Endeavour blasts off from Florida
The Space Shuttle Endeavour launched into space Friday night to begin a 15-day mission to remodel the International Space Station.
The launch, which took place at 7:55 p.m. ET from Cape Canaveral, Fla., was on schedule despite speculation that it could be delayed by bad weather.
"It's our turn to take home improvement to a new level after 10 years of international space station construction," commander Christopher Ferguson radioed before liftoff.
NASA officials had said earlier in the day there was about a 70 per cent chance the weather would co-operate and allow the launch to go ahead, after a cold front on its way to Florida was forecasted to bring high winds and a chance of rain.
In the end, it was a door that hadn't been properly fastened on the pad that almost prevented the launch. Controllers ultimately decided the flapping door didn't pose a major risk and gave the go ahead.
"The vehicle's in good shape, the weather's beautiful," launch director Mike Leinbach told the astronauts just before liftoff.
"Good luck, Godspeed, and have a Happy Thanksgiving on orbit."
Carrying a seven-person crew, Endeavour illuminated the evening sky as it shot off from the Kennedy Space Centre, settling into Earth's orbit about 8½ minutes after takeoff.
Endeavour's crew will be delivering a 14,500-kilogram payload of equipment that will allow the space station to double the crew size to six members in the spring of 2009.
The shuttle is loaded with two additional bedrooms, an extra toilet and exercise machine and two new food warmers, a food refrigerator and an experiment freezer.
The crew will also install a recycling system that will turn urine into drinking water at the orbiting outpost, which will be even more essential for the station crew after the space shuttle program is retired in 2010.
Space shuttles produce water as a byproduct of their electrical systems, and NASA has transferred this water to the station rather than dumping it overboard.
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"I would sure love to visit the station. I don't think I would be too fond of the liftoff, though."
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Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk is one of the members of the inaugural seven-person crew. He is slated to arrive at the station via a Russian Soyuz rocket, which is set to blast off in late May 2009.
The Endeavour crew will also conduct four spacewalks to perform maintenance on the massive solar arrays that power the station to allow them to rotate and track the sun.
The astronauts will replace bearings and lubricate the starboard-side array's rotary joint and perform preventive maintenance on the port-side joint.
The shuttle is scheduled to return with Montreal-born astronaut Greg Chamitoff, who will be replaced in the station's three-person crew by U.S. astronaut Sandra Magnus.
Chamitoff, a U.S. citizen, has been aboard the station since arriving aboard a shuttle in June.