Shuttle Endeavour blasts off for space station


Washington : The US space shuttle Endeavour has lifted off from the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral, Florida, bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

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The spacecraft with seven astronauts on board is on an 11-day mission to install a 2.5-tonne solar panel on the ISS, conduct repairs on the orbiting station and deliver of supplies.

Endeavour’s last flight in November 2002 was the US shuttle fleet’s last mission before the shuttle Columbia exploded on re-entry on Feb 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts and temporarily halting the space programme.

All shuttle flights were suspended, and the three remaining shuttles in the fleet were modernized during the years since the Columbia disaster.

Endeavour reached orbit in eight and a half minutes after taking off Wednesday.

Earlier, NASA crews filled Endeavour’s external fuel tank in preparation for launch.

Commander Scott Kelly leads the Endeavour mission. The crew includes astronaut Barbara Morgan, a former teacher who was the backup to fellow educator Christa McAuliffe, who died in the shuttle Challenger’s explosion on takeoff in January 1986.

“Class is in session,” the mission control announcer at mission control said as the spacecraft reached orbit.

Endeavour, built to replace the ill-fated Challenger and the youngest of the shuttles, is now on its 20th mission and has spent less time in space than Discovery and Atlantis, the other remaining shuttles in the fleet.

Prior to Wednesday’s launch, Endeavour had logged 207 days in space and 3,250 orbits of Earth.

After the current mission, Endeavour is scheduled to make four more trips to the International Space Station before being retired with the rest of the fleet by 2010.

With a length of 37.4 metres and a launch weight of 109 tonnes, Endeavour is shorter and lighter than Discovery and Atlantis.

Endeavour is named after the ship on which 18th-century British explorer Captain James Cook set sail on his first voyage to the South Seas.