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Space Shuttle Endeavour Countdown Begins

Countdown clocks began ticking on Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center for Tuesday’s launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour. The shuttle will carry a Japanese lab section and Canadian-built robot for the International Space Station.

Shuttle liftoff is at 2:28 AM EDT.

The Endeavour crew includes two veteran NASA astronauts: commander Dominic Gorie and lead spacewalker Richard Linnehan; rookies Greg Johnson, Michael Foreman, Robert Behnken and Garrett Reisman; and Japan’s Takao Doi, who flew on a shuttle research mission in 1997.

“We all just wanted to convey how excited we are to be here for launch week,” Gorie said after the crew’s belated arrival. “We’ve got a very, very ambitious flight schedule, but with a great orbiter waiting for us and this great crew, we’re going to have a great mission.”

Space Shuttle Endeavour will spend 16 days in orbit which is the longest planned mission for NASA to date. NASA wants to squeeze in as much construction and maintenance time to the International Space Center as possible before the shuttles retire in two years. There are 11 missions remaining.

Endeavour astronauts plan to conduct five spacewalks during their 12 days at the space station. The spacewalks are necessary to install the first part of Japan’s Kibo complex and set up a robot to aid station maintenance and other tasks.