Space shuttle blasts off
ENDEAVOUR and six astronauts rocketed into orbit Monday on what's expected to be the last nighttime launch for the shuttle program, hauling a new room and observation deck for the International Space Station.
The space shuttle took flight before dawn, igniting the sky with a brilliant flash seen for miles around. The weather cooperated at the last minute; Sunday ((07.02.10) morning's try was thwarted by thick, low clouds that returned and almost caused another delay.
Endeavour's destination the space station, home to five men was soaring over Romania at the time of liftoff. The shuttle is set to arrive at the station early Wednesday.
Zamka and his crew will deliver and install Tranquility, a new room that will eventually house life-support equipment, exercise machines and a toilet, as well as a seven-windowed dome. The lookout has the biggest window ever sent into space, a circle 31 inches across.
It will be the last major construction job at the space station. No more big pieces like that are left to fly.
Endeavour's launch also was broadcast to the space station residents, who got to watch it live.
The 13-day shuttle mission comes at one of the most agonizing times for NASA. Exactly one week ago, the space agency finally got its marching orders from President Barack Obama: Ditch the back-to-the-moon Constellation program and its Ares rockets, and pack on the research for an as-yet-unspecified rocket and destination.
NASA's boss, ex-astronaut Charles Bolden, favors Mars. But he, too, is waiting to hear how everything will play out.
The space station came out a winner in the Obama plan. The president's budget would keep the outpost flying until at least 2020, a major extension.
The spectacle of the night launch illuminating the sky attracted a crowd, including some members of Congress and federal big shots. Endeavour shot through some thin clouds on its way into orbit, and its bright flame was visible for several minutes from the launch site.
But the roads weren't nearly as jammed as they were the night before. More than 100 Europeans also were on hand because of the Italian-built Tranquility and domed cupola.
Within 15 minutes of taking off, the astronauts were enjoying "a beautiful sunrise" from orbit, with the moon as a backdrop. "Wish you could be here," Zamka called down. "Great show, Endeavour," replied Mission Control.