Five Americans and one Russian set off to begin building the International Space Station at 2:36 a.m. CST today, launching from Kennedy Space Center with the first American-built component of the station -- a connecting module named Unity -- in the Space Shuttle Endeavour's cargo bay. The shuttle's climb to orbit was flawless.
The STS-88 launch begins the largest cooperative space construction project in history. Endeavour is scheduled to rendezvous with the U.S.-funded and Russian-built Zarya control module on Dec. 6. Zarya, which in Russian means sunrise, lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan, on Nov. 20.
After reaching orbit, Commander Bob Cabana, Pilot Rick Sturckow and Mission Specialists Nancy Currie, Jerry Ross, Jim Newman and Sergei Krikalev began preparing for the first of several engine firings that will bring Endeavour within robot arm's reach of Zarya. Along the way, the crew will use the same 50-foot-long arm Dec. 5 to remove the Unity module from the payload bay and connect it to the shuttle's docking hatch. Crew members will use the robot arm to grapple Zarya about 5:48 p.m. CST Dec. 6 and dock it to one of Unity's two Pressurized Mating Adapters.
Newman and Ross are scheduled to conduct the first of the mission's three space walks Dec. 7. The space walks will connect electrical and communications lines between Unity and Zarya, and prepare Unity's systems for activation.
At launch, Zarya was making its 222nd orbit of the Earth about 240 statute miles above the Kennedy Space Center. Russian flight controllers in Mission Control Korolev reported that all systems aboard Zarya, which will provide the initial control and command capabilities for the space station, were functioning well with the minor exception of one of six battery charging systems. Endeavour is carrying replacement parts for the system in the event they are needed.
After Endeavour undocks from the International Space Station on Dec. 13, the crew will deploy two small technology demonstration satellites called MightySat and the Argentine Satelite de Aplicaciones/Scientifico-A.
The astronauts are scheduled to begin their sleep period at 7:36 a.m. CST, and will awaken at 3:36 p.m. for their first full day in space.
Note: For complete coverage of the International Space Station, visit the NASA Human Spaceflight home page at http://station.nasa.gov/index-m.html.
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