Space shuttle Endeavour launches with Japanese lab

Tue Mar 11, 2008 4:31am EDT
 
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By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - The U.S. space shuttle Endeavour blasted off from a seaside Florida launch pad on Tuesday to deliver part of a long-awaited Japanese space laboratory and a Canadian-built robotic system to the International Space Station.

Piercing the still of night with a thunderous boom and a flash of white-hot flame, the spaceship lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 2:28 a.m. EDT and disappeared swiftly into clouds to begin a 16-day flight.

"We'd like to say konnichiwa, domo arigato and banzai (hello, thank you and banzai)," commander Dominic Gorie said shortly before liftoff, speaking some Japanese in a nod to that country's important role in the mission.

"God truly has blessed us with a beautiful night here to launch so let's light 'em up and give 'em a show."

With the arrival of Japan's lab, all 15 partner countries in the space station venture -- the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and 11 members of the European Space Agency -- are represented in orbit. Europe's first permanent space lab, Columbus, was delivered to the station last month.

The $100 billion space station is 60 percent complete after a decade of construction and must be finished by the time the three remaining U.S. space shuttles are retired in 2010.

Endeavour, thrust by its three main engines and two solid rocket boosters that were jettisoned on the way up to a speed of more than 17,000 miles per hour (28,000 km per hour), was carrying the first part of the elaborate Japanese space laboratory called Kibo, meaning "hope."

About the size of a double-decker bus, Kibo will be the station's largest laboratory and the only one with facilities for art along with experiment racks for biomedical studies, fluid physics research and life science.   Continued...

 
<p>The space shuttle Endeavour lifts off on Mission STS-123 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida March 11, 2008. REUTERS/Joe Skipper</p>