NASA space shuttle Endeavour rockets on

With US budgetary axe as backdrop, NASA space shuttle Endeavour set to blast off Feb. 7


NASA gave its space shuttle Endeavour a thumbs up this week for an expected nighttime launch on Feb. 7.

According to NASA at this point there are no issues that could impede an on-time liftoff of Endeavour and for the for the space shuttle program’s 32nd visit to the International Space Station.

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Endeavour's flight will begin the final year of space shuttle operations. Five shuttle missions are planned in 2010, with the final flight currently targeted for launch in September.

NASA and those around the space program are awaiting President Obama’s NASA budget recommendations for the future. Some say details could come as soon as Feb.1. Many news outlets reported this week that it expects the Obama administration will let commercial rocket companies compete to develop a new rocket to carry astronauts to and from the space station.

Meanwhile, Endeavour will shoulder on. On its 13-day mission, Endeavour will be carrying the 21 ft long, 14 ft wide, 27,000 pound life support module known as Tranquility to the International Space Station. A “room with a view” module known as the Cupola module is also part of the ISS package heading into orbit.

According to NASA, the pressurized Tranquility module, which was built for NASA by Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy, under contract to the European Space Agency -- will bump out the room for crew members and many of the space station's life support and environmental control systems including include air revitalization, oxygen generation and water recycling. A waste and hygiene compartment and a treadmill also will be relocated from other areas of the station, NASA stated.

Tranquility will be linked to the Earth-facing side of the ISS’ Unity node. The new node will provide an additional docking point for space shuttles and other crew vehicles visiting the station in the future.

NASA says the Cupola node could be considered the ultimate observation deck as the small, dome-shaped module has seven windows -- six around the sides and one on top -- that can be shuttered when not in use to protect them from micrometeoroids and the harsh space environment. The windows are made of fused silica and borosilicate glass panes, with temperature-sensing elements and window heaters, NASA said.

Just under ten feet in diameter, the module will accommodate two crew members and portable workstations that can control station and robotic activities. The multi-directional view will allow the crew to monitor spacewalks and docking operations, as well as provide a spectacular view of Earth and other celestial objects, NASA stated.

Endeavour's 13-day flight will include three spacewalks, NASA stated.

The next shuttle, Discovery, is slated to blast off in March with a payload of scientific gear and a spare ammonia tank assembly, NASA said.

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