Space Shuttle Endeavour in Orbit

[PeterPaul.ca] — Space shuttle Endeavour rocketed away Wednesday on a 16-day mission featuring five spacewalks and the installation of the last segment of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory.

The shuttle blasted off at 6:03 p.m., right on schedule. It was the sixth attempt in the past month to launch the STS-127 mission.

“They are finally in orbit,” Horacio Hernandez, watching the launch at Toronto’s Scarborough Town Centre, said Wednesday. “It’s about time.”

At a post-launch news conference, officials said the orbiter was hit with debris shortly after the Solid Rocket Booster separated from the shuttle. “A couple orbiter hits … Probably two or three hits,” the official said.

The debris hit the shuttle about two minutes after blastoff and more analysis is needed, NASA officials said. It will take three to four days to analyze the data.

Canadian Space Agency [CSA] President Steve McLean, a former astronaut, said that for Canada, “It doesn’t get any better.” “This is a historic mission for all the international partners, because all five space agencies – Canada, the United States, Russia, Japan and Europe – are represented on the Space Station,” McLean said as Endeavour blasted off.

“This mission marks a key moment in Canada’s space history and further demonstrates this government’s commitment to science and technology,” the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, said at Kennedy Space Centre. His department is reponsible for the CSA.

Canadian astronaut Julie Payette, aboard shuttle Endeavour, will be the last CSA astronaut to visit the International Space Station [ISS]. Once the shuttle docks with the ISS on Friday, it will be the first time there are two Canadians aboard the ISS.

Payette will operate the Shuttles Canadarm, the Station’s Canadarm2, and the Japanese robotic arm, the CSA said.

Shortly before docking with the ISS, the shuttle will perform a Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver [RPM] which will flip the shuttle on its belly, enabling the ISS crew to capture high-resolution photos of the crafts underbelly. Mission control in Houston then reviews those photos, looking for possible damage to the shuttles heat-shielding tiles.

This maneuver has been standard procedure since the Columbia disaster on February 1, 2003, which was caused when debris struck the shuttle shortly after launch. Super-hot gases penetrated the orbiter on re-entry, killing the seven astronauts aboard as the shuttle disintegrated above Texas.

STS-127 is the 127th space shuttle mission, the 29th to the ISS, and the third shuttle mission of 2009, NASA said.

The first landing opportunity for Endeavour is July 31 at 10:31 a.m. at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

For the latest updates on STS-127, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv
http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle

STS-127 mission commander Mark Polansky will be twittering from space, follow his updates here:

http://www.twitter.com/Astro_127

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