CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – After more than a month’s delay, space shuttle Endeavour and seven astronauts thundered into orbit Wednesday on a flight to the international space station, hauling up a veranda for Japan’s enormous lab.
Success came on launch try No. 6, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the liftoff of man’s first moon landing.
But the mood was dampened somewhat when NASA managers watched the launch video.
Eight or nine pieces of foam insulation came off the external fuel tank during liftoff, and the shuttle was hit at least two or three times, said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s space operations chief. Some scuff marks were spotted, but that probably is coating loss and considered minor, he said.
In fact, Mission Control told the astronauts Wednesday night that the damage – which occurred not quite two minutes into the flight – looked to be less extensive than what occurred on the last flight. The impacts were around the edge of the shuttle where the right wing joins the fuselage.
The shuttle will remain docked at the space station for nearly two weeks. During that time, the shuttle astronauts will help install the third and final piece of the Japanese space station lab, a porch for outdoor experiments. The first two parts went up on shuttle flights last year.