Endeavour …Early Morning Launch

Filed under: Florida News,Hidden Orlando,Just For Fun |

Space Shuttle Endeavour, carrying the last major piece of the International Space Station, is poised for launching before sunrise on Sunday, the last planned nighttime liftoff of a shuttle ever.

The launch is the first of the year as the shuttle program enters its home stretch of five missions this year. The four flights after this one will be largely devoted to carrying science experiments and spare parts to the space station. The shuttles are scheduled to be retired in September.

“Every launch is a little bittersweet,” Michael Moses, the shuttle launch integration manager, said at a news conference Friday. “We’re one closer to the end.”

The launch is scheduled for 4:39 a.m. at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“You’ll see it all the way up the East Coast,” said Michael Leinbach, the shuttle launch director. Weather forecasts call for an 80 percent chance of favorable weather with only some concerns of high winds at the launching pad.

The main cargo for the Endeavour on its 13-day mission is Node 3, a 23-foot-long, 15-foot-wide module for the space station, built under contract with the European Space Agency. It will house many of the station’s life-support systems.

This is the station piece that would have been called Colbert had NASA abided by the results of a poll last year that asked the public for naming suggestions. Stephen Colbert, the host of the parody talk show “The Colbert Report,” urged his fans to vote for naming the station segment after him, and they did in large numbers.

But NASA, which had said the poll results were not binding, instead bestowed the module with the name Tranquility, after Apollo 11’s landing site on the moon in 1969. The space agency did name after Mr. Colbert a piece of exercise equipment, which went to the space station last August and will be moved into the Tranquility module.

If the shuttle launches on Sunday morning, most of the shuttle staff members will be able to watch the Super Bowl in the evening. If the launching is delayed by weather or a mechanical problem, they will instead probably be busy preparing for another launching attempt on Monday morning.

“We’re not going to change our plan based on the Super Bowl, frankly,” Mr. Leinbach said.

Shuttle officials also acknowledged the potential turmoil in NASA’s future after President Obama proposed last week to cancel Constellation, NASA’s program that was to return astronauts to the Moon. But they said that would not compromise their attention during the shuttle mission.

“The team is ready to go,” Mr. Leinbach said. “We will not be distracted on the console. We will not be distracted working on the orbiters. I have no doubt about it. It’s a very, very professional team.”

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