Friday, June 12, 2009

Shuttle set for launch to space station

Friday, June 12, 2009
No obstacles were expected for the launch Saturday of the US shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station (ISS) in its bid to finish the 100-billion-dollar orbiting outpost, NASA said.

Endeavour's crew are tasked with installing the final elements of the Japanese laboratory Kibo

The weather forecast gave a 90 percent chance for favorable conditions to blast off at the projected time of 07:17 am (1117 GMT) from Cape Canaveral in Florida, a NASA spokesman said.

NASA was set late Friday to prepare the seven crew members for boarding and begin filling the shuttle's external tank with some two million liters of chilled liquid hydrogen fuel.

If everything goes to plan officials said the shuttle would return next Friday at 9:15 pm (0115 GMT Saturday).

Things may get a little tight this, when the ISS is set to be a temporary home to 13 astronauts after the Endeavour's arrival -- the first time so many people have stayed on the orbiting station at once.

The six US astronauts and a Canadian female astronaut from Endeavour will join another US astronaut and one more from Canada, as well as two Russians, a Belgian and Japan's Koichi Wakata who are currently living on the ISS.

Construction began on the ISS a decade ago, and the push is on to complete the building before NASA ends its shuttle missions in September 2010.

Endeavour's crew are tasked with installing the final elements of the Japanese laboratory Kibo during their 16-day mission.

The station has become a sophisticated platform for scientific experiments after the installation of a European laboratory last year and the arrival of the hi-tech Japanese lab that is currently being completed.

It will be the 32nd mission to the ISS, which orbits 350 kilometers (220 miles) above Earth, and the last of three missions to assemble the Kibo laboratory.

Over the five planned spacewalks lasting some 32.5 hours, the astronauts will install a permanent 1.9 tonnes platform to Kibo, which will serve as one of the station's porches for conducting experiments in the vacuum of space.


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