Thanks to the improved weather, the space shuttle Endeavour blasted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on Wednesday right on schedule, at 2236 UTC (6:36 pm EDT). Within minutes, the shuttle had released its solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank, and was drifting right on target towards Friday’s encounter with the International Space Station.
Mission STS-118 has begun.
Over the course of the next 11-14 days, Endeavour will link up with the station and transfer over a cargo hold full of food, water, air, fuel, equipment, and experiments. It’s also carrying a starboard truss section that astronauts will bolt onto the station’s backbone, enhancing its size and capacity.
Once the shuttle docks, the astronauts will carry out a series of 3 spacewalks to connect the truss, and replace one of the station’s gyroscopes. They’ll also install an external stowage platform. An additional 4th spacewalk is also a possibility, to attach a new camera boom that future missions could use to inspect their spacecraft for damage to heat tiles. That’s what would extend the mission from 11 to 14 days.
This is the first time that Endeavour has launched since the Columbia disaster killed 7 astronauts back in 2003. NASA has taken the time to give the shuttle a complete overhaul, upgrading almost every part of the orbiter. It’s also been equipped with a new gadget that will let it connect to the International Space Station’s power grid conserving its own batteries, and allowing it to operate longer.
Original Source: NASA News Release