Anyone who has seen a space shuttle launch on TV or in person will say that it is an awesome experience. Make that launch in the dark where all the flames show up even more than in the day light and you add a whole new element to the spectacle.
That’s just what happened with an unusual early morning launch this morning of the Space Shuttle Endeavour which lifted off at 2:28 a.m. EDT from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Endeavour is on a 16-day mission that involves taking part of a Japanese lab to the International Space Station (ISS).
The Japanese Kibo laboratory module is about the size of a double-decker bus according to Reuters and will be the stations largest laboratory once assembled. The Kibo lab will conduct experiments for biomedical studies, fluid physics research and life sciences.
The portion of the lab hefted into orbit by the Endeavour isn’t the largest portion of the Kibo lab, the largest part of the lab is set to launch in May and the final part of the Kibo lab is scheduled to be delivered next year. The labs final portion is an external porch for conducting experiments in a vacuum.
Once the Kibo lab is installed; all fifteen partner countries in the ISS will be represented in orbit. President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Keiji Tachikawa said, “We finally became a real partner of the ISS project, not just one of the members on the list.”
The Endeavor is also carrying a Canadian-built robotic system named Dextre to the station. Dextre will add manual dexterity and 30 additional feet of reach to the existing crane aboard the ISS.
Another mission during the flight will have astronauts testing a new heat shield repair technique developed after the catastrophic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.
The Shuttle Endeavor had its own close call in August of 2007 when a gouge on the underside of the shuttle raised concerns for reentry. The last shuttle trip to the ISS was conducted in February of 2008 by the Atlantis.