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Shuttle blasts off

 

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Endeavour and six astronauts rocketed into orbit this morning on what's likely the last nighttime launch for the shuttle program, hauling a new room and observat ion deck for the International Space Station. The space shuttle took flight before dawn, igniting the sky with a brilliant flash seen for miles around. The weather finally cooperated: Thick, low clouds that had delayed a first launch attempt Sunday returned but then cleared away just in time. "Looks like the weather came together tonight," launch director Mike Leinbach told the astronauts right before liftoff. "It's time to go fly." "We'll see you in a couple weeks," replied commander George Zamka. He repeated: "It's time to go fly." There are just four more missions scheduled this year before the shuttles are retired. "For the last night launch, it treated us well," Leinbach said. Endeavour's destination — the space station, home to five men — was soaring over Romania at the time of liftoff. The shuttle is set to arrive at the station early Wednesday. Zamka and his crew will deliver and install Tranquility, a new room that will eventually house life-support equipment, exercise machines and a toilet, as well as a seven-windowed dome. The lookout has the biggest window ever sent into space, a circle 31 inches across. It will be the last major construction job at the space station. No more big pieces like that are left to fly.

 

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