With the 27-year space shuttle program drawing to an end, mission managers Friday cleared Endeavour and its crew for a rare nighttime blastoff later this month.
Commanded by Dominic Gorie, Endeavour is set for launch at 2:28 a.m. EST on March 11, bound for the International Space Station.
“We’re really ready to go fly,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations.
The mission will begin just three weeks after the end of Atlantis’ flight to the station, an unusually brief interval. In fact, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is planning an ambitious schedule of six flights this year.
“I think Endeavour’s in great shape, and when you’ve got a team that’s motivated and up to speed, boy, you want to keep them in the game, and I think that’s what we’re doing here with a couple of successive launches,” Gorie said this week as the crew conducted preflight checks at the Kennedy Space Center.
During the 16-day mission, Gorie and six other astronauts will conduct five spacewalks and deliver a Japanese laboratory to the still-under-construction station. The launch time is dictated by the angle of the station’s orbit on the day selected for liftoff.
Gorie, 50, is a former Navy pilot. He already has participated in three shuttle missions.
After this flight, only 11 missions remain for the shuttle fleet, which is set to be retired in 2010. The three remaining shuttles will be replaced by another spaceship capable of carrying humans into orbit.