Endeavour flight: the NASA shuttle launch that disappeared
Endeavour flight watchers, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, were able to watch the picture-perfect NASA shuttle launch Monday for only 12 seconds because of an unusual situation.
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Technicians traced the problem to an electrical switch box in the orbiter's aft section. They made the necessary repairs, and the heater performed as advertised.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Space photos of the day: Space Shuttle Endeavour
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"We can declare that a victory," says Peter Nickolenko, the assistant launch director for the mission.
In addition, crew members will conduct four spacewalks, the final four of the shuttle program. Space-suited mission specialists will swap out experiments on the station's exterior, perform a range of maintenance chores, and fine-tune the installment of Endeavour's robotic arm as part of the station's robotic-arm system.
The extra length of boom will help spacewalking station crew members travel to locations on the station they wouldn't be able to reach otherwise.
End of an era for ESA
This mission also marks the final trip for a European Space Agency astronaut aboard the shuttle – mission specialist Roberto Vittori. It has been a route to space for Europeans that predates the space-station program.
The first ESA astronaut to make the trip to orbit on a shuttle was Ulf Merbold, who flew aboard Columbia during the first Spacelab mission in late 1983. The lab, a pressurized research facility that fit into the shuttle's cargo bay, in effect was the forerunner to ESA's Columbus lab module, which NASA would install at the space station 25 years later.
Michel Tognini, a former ESA astronaut who now heads the agency's astronaut center in Cologne, Germany, notes that ESA now has undertaken 86 shuttle missions with NASA, either with ESA astronauts aboard or with ESA-built hardware nestled in an orbiter's cargo bay.
International cooperation, exemplified in ESA's long relationship with NASA, "is essential for the future of human space exploration," he said.