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Shuttle Endeavour set for 'home improvement' mission

The Space Station June 2008 as imaged by STS-124
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  • by Staff Writers
    Cape Canaveral, Florida (AFP) Nov 14, 2008
    Seven astronauts boarded the space shuttle Endeavour Friday hours before their night launch to the International Space Station on a 15-day "home improvement" mission to expand quarters for crews.

    "Everything looks good, the weather is cooperating (and) there are no processing issues," Bill Johnson, chief of the media division at Kennedy Space Center, said of the launch scheduled for 7:55 pm (0055 GMT Saturday).

    The astronauts -- five men and two women, all Americans -- donned bright orange flight suits and were transported under tight security to Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A about 10 miles (16 kilometers) away, where they began a battery of final tests on the shuttle.

    NASA technicians had tanked up the external fuel reservoir earlier in the day, in a clear sign that preparations for launch are in their home stretch. The operation to pump two million liters (530,000 gallons) of mostly super-cooled, liquid hydrogen into the reservoir took three hours.

    NASA TV showed live images of the astronauts strapped into their command chairs in the cockpit as a team of US space agency technicians made final preparations on the flight deck. Endeavour's hatch was due to close at 5:50 pm (2250 GMT).

    There was a 70-percent chance weather conditions would permit the launch, according to Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Barrett, a forecaster at Cape Canaveral.

    The 27th shuttle flight to the orbiting space station and the fourth and final shuttle mission for 2008 is scheduled for liftoff during a 10-minute window at Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral, Florida.

    If the launch has to be delayed an additional 24 hours, for any reason, there would be only a 30 percent chance for favorable weather conditions, Cape Canaveral meteorologist Kathy Winters told reporters Thursday.

    Countdown for the mission began Tuesday at 9:30 pm (0230 GMT Wednesday).

    The mission of the Endeavour, launching nearly 10 years to the day since a shuttle crew first began constructing the International Space Station on November 20, 1998, will be to repair the station's power-generating solar arrays and expand its living quarters to accommodate bigger crews.

    "This mission is all about home improvement," shuttle commander Chris Ferguson said Tuesday. "Home improvement inside and outside the station."

    The additions will include two new sleeping quarters, exercise equipment, a second toilet, two new ovens to heat food, a refrigerator for food and drinks, a freezer and an oven for scientific experiments.

    Endeavour will be carrying 14.5 tonnes of material and equipment to the Italian module Leonardo, allowing for the ISS crew to expand from three to six in 2009.

    They also will be installing a system that can turn urine back into drinking water. The 250-million-dollar upgrade will allow enough recycling for a six-person ISS crew to sharply reduce the amount of water that has to be flown out from Earth.

    The astronauts include commander Ferguson, 47, co-pilot Eric Boe, 44, and five other mission specialists including Sandra Magnus, 44.

    She will replace compatriot Greg Chamitoff as ISS Expedition 18 flight engineer. Chamitoff is scheduled to return to Earth on Endeavour in late November while Magnus is to stay on through February 2009.

    Endeavour's mission is scheduled to end November 29, though NASA has said the flight could well be extended a day.

    If the mission should fail to launch by November 25, it would have to be postponed until January, Cain said.

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    Weather good for Friday shuttle launch: NASA
    Washington (AFP) Nov 13, 2008
    Weather conditions have improved for Friday's launch of the space shuttle Endeavour and its seven astronauts on a mission to the International Space Station, NASA meteorologists said Thursday.

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