Shuttle Endeavour Makes Rare Night Launch

The space shuttle Endeavour lifts off from the launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center. i

The space shuttle Endeavour lifts off from the launch pad 39-A on March 11, 2008 at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Joe Raedler/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Joe Raedler/Getty Images
The space shuttle Endeavour lifts off from the launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center.

The space shuttle Endeavour lifts off from the launch pad 39-A on March 11, 2008 at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Joe Raedler/Getty Images

The shuttle Endeavour blasted off into the darkness early Tuesday morning on what is to be its longest space station mission ever — a 16-day trip to build a Canadian robot and construct part of a Japanese science module.

Blasting off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center at 2:28 a.m. EDT, Endeavour's seven-astronaut crew was the first to make the spectacular nighttime launch since 2006.

"God truly has blessed us with a beautiful night...to launch, so let's light them up and give them a show," said Endeavour commander Dominic Gorie.

After the crew reaches the International Space Station late Wednesday night, the astronauts will perform five spacewalks, the most ever planned during a shuttle visit.

The crew includes pilot Gregory H. Johnson and mission specialists Robert L. Behnken, Mike Foreman, Rick Linnehan, Garrett Reisman and Japanese astronaut Takao Do.

Officials from the Canadian Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency were on hand for the spectacular launch. Endeavour is carrying the first part of Japan's Kibo science module and a Canadian robot named Dextre.

The main part of the Kibo ("Hope" in Japanese) lab will fly on the next shuttle mission in May, with the final installment, a porch for outdoor experiments, going up next year. The Japanese Space Agency has invested about $6.7 billion in the space station program, including a Kibo control center near Tokyo.

Canada's $200 million-plus Dextre is designed to eventually take over some of the more routine outdoor maintenance chores from spacewalking astronauts. Dextre, short for dexterous, will join the space station's Canadian-built robot arm, which has been in orbit for seven years.

Endeavour's departure marked the second successful launch of a shuttle in just over a month's time.

Leopold Eyharts, who arrived at the space station aboard the shuttle Atlantis in February, will return to Earth with the Endeavour crew; Reisman will take his place on the station.

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