Space shuttle Endeavour thundered into orbit early in the morning on March 11 carrying seven astronauts and Japan's dreams for a space-based laboratory at the International Space Station.
"This is a great launch and a real tribute to the team to get it ready to go fly," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Space Operations.
The STS-123 mission started with a rare night launch for Endeavour's crew, commanded by veteran astronaut Dominic Gorie. Gregory H. Johnson served as Pilot. The mission specialists for the flight are an international mix of experienced and first-time crew members. Robert L. Behnken, Mike Foreman, Rick Linnehan, Garrett Reisman and Japanese astronaut Takao Doi all have critical roles during the 16-day mission by Endeavour.
Thrust in the form of translucent blue and bright yellow fire ignited a light show over NASA's Kennedy Space Center when Endeavour roared off the launch pad at 2:28 a.m. EDT on March 11.
The first module of the Japanese-built Kibo laboratory complex was packed inside Endeavour's cargo bay, along with a Canadian-built robotics system that will enhance the capabilities of the International Space Station's robotic arm.
The pressurized logistics module for the Kibo complex represents the first manned spacecraft for Japan.
"With this flight, I believe we fully became a real partner in the International Space Station project," said Keiji Tachikawa, president of JAXA, the Japanese space agency.
Dextre is the robotics system that Endeavour lofted into orbit. With it, Canada is making a literal extension to what the nation already built. Canada built both the space shuttle robot arm and the robotic arm used on the International Space Station.
"Today we are marking another point in our space history," said Guy Bujold, director of the Canadian Space Agency.
It will take the STS-123 crew more than two weeks in space and five spacewalks to accomplish the goals of the mission.
Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Leopold Eyharts, who arrived at the station aboard Atlantis in February, will return to Earth with the Endeavour crew as Reisman takes his place on the station.
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