Cape Canaveral (CA) – NASA successfully launched its Endeavour orbiter as planned on Friday at 7:55 pm EDT. The space shuttle had a spectacular and picture-perfect lift off and was orbiting Earth in less than ten minutes. The crew is now on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver equipment and perform repairs.
Endeavour is expected dock with the ISS within 24 hours of launch, where the seven astronauts on board will meet up with the current Expedition 18 crew led by Commander Mike Fincke. Mission STS-126 (4.5 MB PDF), which is actually the name of the 124th space shuttle flight, will deliver equipment that is expected to enable more people to stay at the space station: The payload includes a reusable logistics module that will hold supplies and equipment, including additional crew quarters, additional exercise equipment, equipment for the regenerative life support system and spare hardware; the astronauts will also perform much needed repairs at the ISS.
Christopher Ferguson has the command on the mission, which is expected to last 15 days. Endeavour is scheduled to touch back down at Kennedy Space Center on November 29.
Of the seven astronauts, Sandra Magnus will remain at ISS, replacing Expedition 17/18 flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff, who returns to Earth with the STS-126 crew. Magnus will serve as a flight engineer and NASA science officer for Expedition 18 and is expected to Earth on shuttle mission STS-119, which currently has a launch date of sometime after February 12, 2009.
Endeavour was launched from launch pad 39A, the most famous launch platforms at Kennedy space center, located just north of Cape Canaveral on Merritt Island. Both 39A and 39B were originally built for the Apollo/Saturn V rockets that launched American astronauts on their historic journeys to the moon and back. Since the late 1960s, they also served as launch sites for the Apollo, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz and space shuttle mission. The first space shuttle mission was launched on April 12, 1981, when Columbia took off on STS-1 from pad 39A.
A video of the launch can be seen on NASA’s website.