National News

Space Shuttle Blasts Off With N.C. State Professor Aboard

Posted March 11, 2008

— Shuttle Endeavour and a crew of seven – including an astronaut with ties to North Carolina State University  – blasted into orbit Tuesday on what was to be the longest space station mission ever.

One of the astronauts, Rick Linnehan, is a visiting assistant professor at N.C. State's College of Veterinary Medicine. The crew plans to build a gangly robot and add a new room that will serve as a closet for a future lab during the 16-day voyage.

Dr. Suzanne Kennedy-Stoskopf, one of Linnehan's colleagues at N.C. State, said this will be Linnehan's second spacewalk. He decided to become an astronaut because he knew animals would be going into space, Kennedy-Stoskopf said.

"(As a veterinarian) he could help with their well-being," she said.

The space shuttle roared from its seaside pad at 2:28 a.m., lighting up the sky for miles around as it took off on a multinational flight involving Canada and Japan.

It was a rare treat: The last time NASA launched a shuttle at nighttime was in 2006. Only about a quarter of shuttle flights have begun in darkness.

"Good luck and Godspeed, and we'll see you back here in 16 days," launch director Mike Leinbach radioed to the astronauts right before liftoff.

"Banzai," replied Endeavour's commander, Dominic Gorie, using a Japanese exclamation of joy. "God truly has blessed us with a beautiful night here, Mike, to launch, so let's light 'em up and give 'em a show."

They did. The shuttle took flight with a flash of light, giving a peach-yellow glow to the low clouds just offshore before disappearing into the darkness.

Gorie and his crew face a daunting job once they reach the international space station late Wednesday night. The astronauts will perform five spacewalks, the most ever planned during a shuttle visit.

The launching site was jammed with Canadians and Japanese representing two of the major partners in the international space station. The Canadian Space Agency supplied Dextre, the two-armed robot that was hitching a ride aboard Endeavour, while the Japanese Space Agency sent up the first part of its massive Kibo lab, a storage compartment for experiments, tools and spare parts.

Also on hand for the liftoff was a 19-member congressional delegation led by Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Texas, whose district includes Johnson Space Center in Houston. He is pushing for increased NASA funding.

For the first time since space station construction began nearly 10 years ago, all five major partners were about to own a piece of the orbiting real estate. The launch of the first section of Kibo, or Hope, finally propelled Japan into the space station action.

"With this flight I believe that we finally became a real partner of the (space station) project, not just one of the members on the list, after 20 some years of effort in the project," said Keiji Tachikawa, head of the Japanese Space agency.

Work on the space station project began in the mid-1980s, with preliminary design work for Kibo starting in 1990. Space station construction, however, was stalled over the years for various reasons, most recently the 2003 Columbia tragedy.

The main part of the Kibo lab will fly on the next shuttle mission in May, with the final installment, a porch for outdoor experiments, going up next year.

Altogether, the Japanese Space Agency has invested about $6.7 billion in the space station program, including a Kibo control center near Tokyo.

Canada's $200 million-plus Dextre, meanwhile, is designed to eventually take over some of the more routine outdoor maintenance chores from spacewalking astronauts. Dextre, short for dexterous and pronounced like Dexter, will join the space station's Canadian-built robot arm, already in orbit for seven years.

In addition to working with their international payloads, Endeavour's astronauts will try out a caulking gun and high-tech goo on deliberately damaged shuttle thermal tile samples. The test - part of NASA's ongoing post-Columbia safety effort - should have been performed last year, but was put off because of emergency space station repairs.

Astronaut Garrett Reisman will stay behind on the space station until June, swapping places with a Frenchman who accompanied Europe's Columbus lab into orbit in February.

A Japanese astronaut is also part of Endeavour's all-male crew.

Endeavour's countdown was the smoothest in years, officials said. Shortly after liftoff, however, the astronauts had to deal with a couple of problems that ended up being minor. They got alert messages for some of their ship's steering thrusters, but it turned out to be a bad electronics card. Then the primary cooling system failed, and they had to switch to the backup.

A cursory look at the initial launch images - fewer than usual because of the nighttime launch - showed only one significant loss of debris from the external fuel tank 83 seconds into the flight. But it appeared to miss the right wing.

In any event, Endeavour will be checked thoroughly in orbit for any potential damage, standard procedure ever since the loss of Columbia because of a foam strike.

"This is just a wonderful beginning to what's going to be a long and challenging mission for us," said LeRoy Cain, a shuttle manager who gave the final "go" for launch. "But we're really looking forward to it and we're ready to go, ready to get to work on orbit."

It is the second of six planned shuttle missions this year, all but one to the space station. NASA faces a 2010 deadline for finishing the station and retiring its shuttles.


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  • colliedave Mar 11, 2008

    Can we keep the silly Rush-isms out of this thread? Try coming up with something original or please stay out of our cool Space Blog.

    Can't handle the truth?

  • Darren Mar 11, 2008

    "The technology behind this stuff is just unreal."

    Yes, unreal in that it is decades old. Thanks to the government's rules and regulations holding back private space flight development, the basic technology has advanced very little. Compare it to the rapid advance of information technology and even the early auto and aircraft industries--very little regulation leads to much faster technological advances. It should embarrass every last one of us that it's been 50 years since we started putting people in space and we're still blasting them up there with giant tanks of chemicals propellants. I for one am most certainly not impressed. I look forward to the advances currently being made by private space companies. If they can avoid the death grip of government regulation, they'll put that lumbering dinosaur known as NASA to shame (and out of business I hope).

  • Harvey Mar 11, 2008


    Can we keep the silly Rush-isms out of this thread? Try coming up with something original or please stay out of our cool Space Blog.

  • Bruce Wayne Mar 11, 2008


  • unc70 Mar 11, 2008

    twix, a couple UNC astronauts:

    Bill McArthur
    Charles Brady (also has Duke MD)

    The head of NASA for most of the 1960's was Jim Webb, a UNC grad. The NC Museum of Life and Science in Durham has a good space/NASA exhibit including his personal items.

  • Lblum Mar 11, 2008

    Admiral please read:
    I find it helpful to research items before I make assumptions.

  • TheAdmiral Mar 11, 2008

    I wonder if the professor paid his $2 million ride ticket and where he got that money on a professors salary.

  • colliedave Mar 11, 2008

    It was a rare treat: The last time NASA launched a shuttle at nighttime was in 2006. Only about a quarter of shuttle flights have begun in darkness.

    Yes. A rare glimpse into the mind of a member of the drive-by media. As if NASA chooses the timing of a launch to give a light-show rather than done a precise mathmatical formula.

  • twixandbetwwen Mar 11, 2008

    I remember watching Alan Sheppard, John Glen, and the rest of the first Mercury astronauts fly their missions and take the first step to the edge of space and beyond.

  • twixandbetwwen Mar 11, 2008

    A story used to make the rounds when the ewenc fans were riding the State fans about ewenc culture verses agriculture. The State fans would respnd: If it wasn't for NCSU, you would be naked (The College of Textiles) and starving to death ( School of Agriculture).