Endeavour en route for the ISS
Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off this morning at 07:28 CET (06:28 UT) from Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, on a 16-day mission to the ISS. On its return it will bring back to Earth ESA astronaut Léopold Eyharts, who flew to the ISS on 7 February onboard Atlantis.
The STS-123 mission is dedicated to the continuation of the ISS assembly, carrying aloft the logistics module of the future Japanese Kibo laboratory and a Canadian remote-controlled high-precision robot.
The robot, called SPDM (Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator), or ‘Dextre’, will eventually be used as an extension at the end of the Station’s robot arm. It can be controlled both from within the ISS and from Earth, so this sophisticated new robot could save the need for some astronaut Extra Vehicular Activities (EVAs).
Endeavour and its crew of seven astronauts are due to reach the ISS on Thursday 13 March, at 04:27 CET (03:27 UT). In the hours after docking, ESA astronaut Léopold Eyharts, onboard the Station since 10 February, will exchange his anatomic seat in the Soyuz spacecraft with that of NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman. This exchange will mark the official transfer of Eyharts from the permanent ISS crew to that of STS-123.
During the 12 remaining days of Endeavour being attached to the ISS, Eyharts will continue his work on ESA’s Columbus laboratory. He will also support the five upcoming EVAs as main operator of the Station’s robot arm.
Return to Earth for Eyharts and WAICO
Undocking of Endeavour is foreseen for 25 March around 00:55 CET (24 March, 23:55 UT), returning to Earth, with ESA astronaut Eyharts onboard, on 27 March at 01:35 CET (00:35 UT).
The Shuttle will also bring back home a first round of results from scientific experiments conducted inside Columbus. Called WAICO (Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis roots at different g-levels), these experiments were conducted inside the ‘Biolab’ facility and study the influence of various gravity levels on the growth of cress roots (Arabidopsis thaliana), a plant species whose genomes are of particular interest to scientists. After the departure of Eyharts, the second part of WAICO will be performed during ISS Increment 17.