Home Technology Endeavour heads for space station with new picture window

Endeavour heads for space station with new picture window


Washington : The space shuttle Endeavour lit up the Florida coast before dawn Monday as it blasted off for a mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The 1014 GMT start was the final night-time launch for the ageing shuttle fleet, which is to be mothballed later this year.

Endeavour is carrying a six-window viewing area that will give astronauts a panoramic look at Earth, the station and visiting spacecraft.

Endeavour’s 13-day mission will carry the Tranquility node to the ISS, making the orbiting space lab 90-percent complete.

The Italian-made node is designed as a connecting element that will also provide ISS’s permanent crew with more space and house life support and environmental control systems, a treadmill and other equipment.

But perhaps the most anticipated part of Tranquility is the cupola that it will attach to the station. The six-windowed space will allow astronauts to operate robotic controls and get a 360-degree view, like a crane operator sitting in a cabin.

It will be the largest window ever flown into space and is made of specially equipped glass that protect crew from solar radiation. The view will allow scientific observations and provide long-term astronauts with a much-needed glimpse of home.

The windows come equipped with shutters to protect them from passing space debris and will be closed when not in use. The panes are designed to be replaced in space if need be.

The launch marks the beginning of the end of NASA’s nearly 29-year-old space shuttle programme, which is scheduled to be mothballed in September. Endeavour will be followed by just four more shuttle flights to complete construction of the ISS.

In 2010 NASA will say goodbye to the shuttle programme as each craft takes its final flight. The US space agency decided to retire the ageing fleet after the shuttle Columbia disintegrated when re-entering Earth’s atmosphere in 2003, but first used the craft to complete construction of the ISS.

The large shuttles are the only existing spacecraft large enough to haul pieces of the station into orbit.

NASA had planned to replace the shuttle with next generation Orion spacecraft that were a throwback to the Apollo programme of the 1960s, but President Barack Obama last week scrubbed the so-called Constellation programme from his budget.

Instead, he devoted $6 billion over five years to encouraging commercial firms to ferry astronauts into orbit in what would essentially be a space taxi service.

The US will be reliant on Russian Soyuz craft to take US astronauts into space until an alternative is ready to fly.

Three spacewalks are planned to install and outfit Tranquility.

Endeavour is scheduled to return to earth Feb 19.