Cape Canaveral: NASA's space shuttle Endeavour blasted into orbit on Tuesday with a crew of seven onboard for what is slated to be the longest space station mission ever. The 16-day multinational mission, involving Canada and Japan, will see the erection of a two-armed robot and the addition of a new room to the station, which will serve as a closet for a future lab.
The space shuttle took off at 0628 GMT, one of those rare occasions when it has taken off during night. The last such occasion was in 2006. Overall, a quarter of shuttle flights have taken off in darkness.
Endeavour's commander, Dominic Gorie and his crew are scheduled to perform five space walks once they arrive at the space station, which is the most ever planned during a shuttle visit.
The Canadian Space Agency has supplied the Dextre, the two-armed robot that is going up with the Endeavour along with the first module of the Japanese Space Agency's massive Kibo (Hope) lab, which will be a storage compartment for experiments, tools and spare parts.
The launch marks a historic occasion as for the first time since construction of the space station began nearly 10 years ago all five major partners will own their own modules aboard the orbiting space station.
This will come to pass with the launch of the first section of the Japanese lab Kibo.
"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.
NASA has to complete construction of the space station by 2010, by which year it is also scheduled to retire its fleet of shuttles.