NASA's Endeavour launches 'complicated' mission

Six shuttle crew members finally head to space station to install last node (see video, below)

With this morning's launch of the space shuttle Endeavour, the six-astronaut crew began what NASA is calling a "very complicated" mission to deliver and install the last major piece of the International Space Station.

After cloudy skies stymied Sunday's scheduled launch, Endeavour finally took off at 4:14 a.m. Eastern time today from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Just two minutes into the flight, the space shuttle entered low-Earth orbit and began its trip to rendezvous with the space station on Wednesday.

"What a beautiful launch we had this morning. The orbiter performed extremely well," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for space operations at NASA, during a postlaunch news conference. "This is a great start to a very complicated mission."

The weather was a concern in the hours leading up to this morning's launch. NASA had called for a "no-go" a few times between Sunday night and Monday morning, but the cloud cover lifted in time for the smooth liftoff.

The space shuttle originally was scheduled for a Sunday morning liftoff, but a low cloud ceiling forced NASA to cancel with the astronauts suited up and strapped into their seats.

The second try was a smooth one, said Mike Leinbach, NASA's shuttle launch director. "This was one of the smoothest countdowns ever," he said. "The team was very, very energized going into the count."

The six Endeavour crew members are set to head to the orbiting space station to deliver an Italian-built module that will be connected to the station, along with a seven-windowed cupola, which will serve as a robotics control room.

The astronauts are due to conduct three spacewalks during the mission.

Shuttle Endeavor launches on a mission to the ISS.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, send e-mail to sgaudin@computerworld.com or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed .

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