Shuttle Endeavour and a crew of seven blasted into orbit on Tuesday on what was to be the longest space station mission ever, a 16-day voyage to build a gangly robot and add a new room that will serve as a closet for a future lab.
The space shuttle roared from its seaside pad at 0628 GMT, lighting up the sky for miles around as it took off on a multinational flight involving Canada and Japan.
It was a rare treat: the last time Nasa launched a shuttle at nighttime was in 2006. Only about a quarter of shuttle flights have begun in darkness.
“Good luck and God speed, and we’ll see you back here in 16 days,” launch director Mike Leinbach radioed to the astronauts right before liftoff.
“Banzai,” replied Endeavour’s commander, Dominic Gorie, using a Japanese exclamation of joy. “God truly has blessed us with a beautiful night here, Mike, to launch, so let’s light them up and give Him a show.”
They did. The shuttle took flight with a flash of light, giving a peach-yellow glow to the low clouds just offshore before disappearing into the darkness.
Shortly after liftoff, the astronauts had to deal with alert messages regarding their ship’s steering thrusters. Then for unknown reasons, the cooling system had to be switched from the primary to backup line.
Nasa said it was looking into the problems. Gorie and his crew face a daunting job once they reach the international space station late Wednesday night. The astronauts will perform five spacewalks, the most ever planned during a shuttle visit.
The launching site was jammed with Canadians and Japanese representing two of the major partners in the international space station. The Canadian Space Agency supplied Dextre, the two-armed robot that was hitching a ride aboard Endeavour, while the Japanese Space Agency sent up the first part of its massive Kibo lab, a storage compartment for experiments, tools and spare parts.