An unmanned European cargo ship blasted off on Saturday to the International Space Station in the maiden voyage of a new class of ships. From Space.com: “About the size of a double-decker London bus, the 21-ton cargo tug is 32 feet (10 meters) long, almost 15 feet (4.5 meters) wide and is designed to haul up to 16,800 pounds (7,620 kg) – about three times that of current Russian cargo ships – of fresh supplies to the space station. After six months in space, the spacecraft will be jettisoned for disposal in Earth’s atmosphere.”
The ships are scheduled to be launched every 18 months, relieving the needs for Russian Progress units. Interestingly, the Europeans launched the ship but will have to make it wait for its docking until Endeavour finishes its mission to the ISS.
Speaking of which, the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled for launch tonight from Kennedy Space Center at 2:28 EDT. It is carrying the first piece of the Japanese science module, Kibo. Astronauts will also assemble a monstrous, two-armed Canadian robot and deliver a suite of on-orbit experiments during their mission, scheduled to last 16 days! More from Space.com: “ Two days after Japan’s first orbital room is stowed in a temporary berth at the space station, spacewalkers Linnehan, Foreman and Behnken will piece together Dextre — the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) maintenance robot that weighs more than 3,440 pounds (1,560 kilograms).
The giant robot, often personified by the STS-123 crew as “Mr. Dextre,” will have an arm span of about 30 feet (9 meters) and stand 12 feet (3.7 meters) tall. By guiding highly precise “hands” from inside the space station, astronauts can perform basic space station maintenance without having to venture into the unforgiving space environment outside.”
Update 3/11/08 12:45A MDT
Endeavour has successfully reached orbit. Hope the rest of the mission goes as well!