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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Space shuttle Endeavour lights up the night sky in successful launch

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Space shuttle Endeavour brought an early dawn to Kennedy Space Center on Monday, punching its way through cloudy skies to close the curtain on night-time shuttle launches and kick off the final year of liftoffs for the aging orbiter fleet.

    Low cloud cover almost scrubbed the attempt for the second straight morning. But in the end Endeavour’s picture-perfect launch, on time at 4:14 a.m. EST was greeted with cheers from the crowds that lined the roads from Titusville to Cocoa Beach to witness the last time a shuttle climbed into dark skies.

    Only four shuttle flights now remain — all scheduled daytime launches — before NASA retires the orbiters.

    It was a bittersweet moment for the agency and its contractor workforce.

    The 13-day mission is the first of the final five, a long-anticipated fate realized last week when President Barack Obama released his 2011 budget ruling out any further orbiter flights and canceling Constellation, the planned successor to the shuttle.

    The dramatic shakeup of NASA’s human spaceflight program cast a pall over the preparations for Endeavour’s launch, but NASA managers and astronauts did their best to ignore the distractions and focus on the task at hand: sending Endeavour to the space station on a major construction mission.

    “”OK Zambo, looks like the weather came together tonight, vehicle is in great shape, so it’s time to go fly,”” shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach told shuttle commanderGeorge D. Zamka.

    Zamka was joined by his crew: rookie pilot Terry Virts Jr. of the Air Force; mission specialists Nicholas Patrick, a British-born engineer, Robert Behnken, a former weapons designer, Stephen Robinson, a veteran of three shuttle missions, and Kathryn Hire, the first U.S. woman assigned to a military combat aircrew.

    In a post-launch press briefing, NASA officials said they saw foam break away from the external fuel tank soon after takeoff, but that their initial assessment determined that no “”gross damage”” was done. Falling foam that damaged space shuttle Columbia in 2003 led to its destruction.

    The main goal of Endeavour’s mission is to add a final compartment to the station. Named Tranquility, the module will provide astronauts additional room to work and a windowed dome, or cupola, that will afford them an unparalleled view outside. Currently there are but small portal windows on some compartments at the station.

    “”The cupola is going to change the quality of life for astronauts who live on station because it’s going to give them a window on the world,”” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, a former astronaut, told space center workers on Friday.

    “”Just having the opportunity to float into something like the cupola and reinvigorate yourself is going to make an incredible difference to their quality of life.””

    Tranquility and its seven-pane bay window were constructed in Italy by Thales Alenia Space for NASA and are the last major components for the station. It will take three spacewalks to install the new additions. Once attached to the left side of the station’s central Unity module, the station will be 90 percent complete.

    The module will house life support equipment, exercise gear and a toilet. NASA originally planned to put Tranquility on the right side of the station, but engineers decided to move it to provide better visibility and more clearance for Soyuz spacecraft docking nearby.

    While spacewalkers are busy attaching the new room, the rest of the crew will be working on replacing part of the station’s water recycling system. The urine processor shut down recently when a blockage disabled the unit that converts waste into clean water for the station’s six full-time residents.

    Obama’s $19 billion 2011 budget supports extending the space station’s life through 2020. The $100 billion station would have been splashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2016 under existing plans.

    Bernardo Patti, the station program manager for the European Space Agency — one of NASA’s international partners — said he was very happy about the station’s potential life extension. The extra time, he said, would “”give us a great opportunity to use to the full extent the (station).””

    But while the budget was good news for the station, it represents a fatal blow to the Constellation program and its Ares rockets and capsules that were supposed to replace the shuttle and return astronauts to the moon by 2020.

    White House blue ribbon panel last year found that the program was too expensive and behind schedule. It recommended canceling Constellation and using commercial rockets to take astronauts to the station. Until then astronauts must hitch rides aboard Russian Soyuz rockets at more than $50 million a seat.

    The White House decision stunned space supporters, especially at Kennedy Space Center, which faces 7,000 job losses when the shuttle retires. Many workers had been hoping Constellation would save them.

    “”Distractions are there, shock is there, uncertainty,”” said shuttle Launch director Mike Leinbach. “”But I do not worry about the folks on console when they’re doing their job. I do not worry about the people … working on the orbiters. … When teams are faced with challenges they come together and they act like a professional team.””

    The final space shuttle mission is scheduled for Sept. 16

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