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.
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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