July 16, 2009
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After more than a month's delay, space shuttle Endeavour and seven astronauts thundered into orbit last night on a flight to the international space station. The sixth attempt at the launch came on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the lift off of man's first moon landing. However, the thrill of success was dampened when NASA managers watched the launch video.Columbia was destroyed during re-entry in 2003 because of a hole in its wing, created by flyaway foam at liftoff. Endeavour finally blasted off a little after 10pm (BST) from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida - the same one used to launch Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969 - after delays caused by hydrogen gas leaks last month and bad weather. When the astronauts board the space station, which was soaring more than 220 miles (350 kilometers) above the Pacific at launch time, it will be the first time 13 people are together in space. Ten is the previous record.
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. 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, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's space operations chief said. Mr Gerstenmaier said zoom-in photos will be taken of the entire shuttle before it docks with the space station on Friday, to ascertain whether it suffered any serious damage. At a news conference, Gerstenmaier noted that the Endeavour crew has shuttle repair kits on board. In case of irreparable damage, the astronauts could move into the space station for two to three months and await rescue by another shuttle.
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