The US space shuttle Endeavour yesterday headed for the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) on a mission to complete work on the Japanese Kibo laboratory.
The six Americans and one Canadian on board Endeavour are scheduled to reach the ISS today, where they will install a platform for astronauts to conduct experiments 350km above Earth’s surface.
The shuttle blasted off on Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center, its sixth bid in recent weeks to reach the ISS after delays caused by weather woes and technical troubles. The aborted attempts left cash-strapped NASA footing US$4.5 million in extra costs.
Eight minutes after launch the shuttle entered orbit 225km above Earth, and a few moments later the shuttle could be seen separating from the external fuel tank.
NASA said it hoped the launch would help fulfill “Japan’s hope for an out-of-this-world space laboratory,” as the shuttle delivers state-of-the-art equipment to conduct experiments in space.
A NASA official downplayed the potential of damage caused by debris that peeled off from Endeavour’s external fuel tank during liftoff and could be seen hitting the shuttle about two minutes into the flight in images broadcast on NASA TV.
The debris could be ice or foam that broke off from the external fuel tank, said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for space operations.
“We had some foam loss events,” Gerstenmaier said. “You can clearly see, on the front part of the orbiter, some white indications where the tiles were dinged.”
“We don’t consider those an issue for us, those are probably coating losses,” he said.
Specialists will scrutinize the images, he said, and later the shuttle will be closely examined by the Endeavour and ISS crews.