Endeavour Lifts Off! Launch Date: Aug. 8 .Launch Time: 6:36 p.m. EDT
Aug. 8 (24hoursnews) -- NASA's shuttle Endeavour launched from Florida this evening, marking its first flight in five years and the start of an 11-day mission to expand the International Space Station.
The ship blasted off at 6:36 p.m. local time from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. It should reach the space station in two days, where the Endeavour's crew will deliver a truss to support solar panels and an external platform to stow equipment.
Aboard the Endeavour are six career astronauts and a former schoolteacher who has waited two decades to fly. Barbara Morgan, 55, was the backup for NASA's ``Teacher in Space'' program. The agency suspended the program in 1986 when the shuttle Challenger exploded just after liftoff, killing seven astronauts, including teacher Christa McAuliffe.
``For Barbara Morgan and her crewmates, class is in session,'' said an announcer on NASA TV as the Endeavour reached preliminary orbit about 10 minutes after launch.
Morgan resumed astronaut training in 1998 and left teaching. While at the space station, she'll steer the robotic arm that positions equipment on the outpost's hull. If desired, NASA may extend the mission by three days.
``What I am most excited about is those next steps that will get us back to the moon,'' Morgan said in a NASA interview. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has vowed to return astronauts to the moon by 2020, with an eye toward eventually reaching Mars.
Today's flight is the first for Endeavour since 2002. Like all NASA shuttles, it was grounded for more than two years after the 2003 accident that destroyed the shuttle Columbia and killed its seven-member crew.
NASA traced the cause to damaged heat tiles and instituted stricter launch procedures. At the same time, engineers upgraded Endeavour's plumbing and electrical systems, almost doubling -- to a month -- the time the ship can spend in space.
The agency has vowed to finish construction of the space station by 2010, the same year it's set to retire the shuttles.
Reaching the next goal -- the moon -- will depend on the shuttle's successor, called Orion. The six-person craft, being built by Lockheed Martin Corp., is scheduled for introduction in 2015, NASA says.
More From NASA News
NASA's Administrator and top launch managers celebrated the flawless liftoff of Space Shuttle Endeavour Wednesday evening as the fulfillment of a legacy.
"A launch operation doesn't get any better than this, it can't," Administrator Mike Griffin said following the launch.
+ View Launch Video
The flight placed seven astronauts, a space station segment and 5,800 pounds of cargo and supplies into orbit and on the way to the International Space Station. The 11-day mission calls for attachment of the space station segment, transfer of the cargo and supplies and a test of a new power transfer system. If the system works, the mission would be extended to 14 days.
Teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan will also conduct several educational programs during the flight.
+ STS-118 Mission Overview
+ STS-118 Fact Sheet (900 Kb PDF)
+ STS-118 NASA TV Schedule
+ STS-118 Briefing Animations
+ STS-117 Mission Archive