STS-123 Heading for Space Station

The Space shuttle Endeavour was launched into orbit earlier this morning carrying seven astronauts, a special Canadian robotic system, and a section of Japan’s space-based laboratory. This shuttle launch comes at a time when NASA faces a grim reality – in a little more than 2 years’ time the United States will no longer own a spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts and cargo to the international space station. According to NASA’s plans, at least 7 more years will pass before its next manned spacecraft will be ready for its first flight. In the meantime, the U.S. will need to rely entirely on the Russians in order to maintain and supply the ISS.

STS-123 is commanded by Dominic Gorie, with Gregory H. Johnson serving as pilot. The crew also includes mission specialists Rick Linnehan, Robert L. Behnken, Mike Foreman, Garrett Reisman, and Japanese astronaut Takao Doi. The crew will deliver the first section of the Japanese-built Kibo laboratory and the Canadian Space Agency‘s two-armed robotic system, called Dextre, which will be used for maintaining and servicing the space station. With its dual-arm design providing added flexibility, Dextre will remove and replace smaller components on the station’s exterior, where precise handling is required. The system will be equipped with lights, video equipment, a tool platform, and four tool holders.

The main part of the Kibo lab will be launched into orbit on the next shuttle mission, scheduled to take place this May. The laboratory’s final assembly is due to take place in 2009. The Japanese Space Agency has invested heavily in the development of the International Space Station (ISS), spending over $6.5 billion.

Since summer of 2006, TFOT has covered all of NASA’s shuttle mission launchings. These included STS-121 on July 4th, 2006, STS-115 on September 9th, 2006, STS-116 on December 9th, 2006, STS-117 on June 8th, 2007, STS-118 on August 8th, 2007, STS-120 on October 23rd, 2007, and STS-122 launched on February 7th, 2008.

More information can be found in NASA’s press release.

Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann.

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