Launch Coverage

Welcome to NASA's STS-126 Launch Blog
Blogger at the Launch Control Center

Space shuttle Endeavour launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 7:55 p.m. on Nov. 14, 2008. The liftoff began a 15-day mission to outfit the International Space Station with equipment and supplies. The new gear will set the stage for doubling the station's crew to six from the current three.

You can relive the countdown and launch with this account by blogger Steve Siceloff, right, along with video and photo galleries of the countdown activities and launch assembled by NASA's Web team.

Video highlights from the STS-126 countdown are selected from televised coverage provided by NASA TV.
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› Image Gallery

Note: All times are given in Eastern Time unless otherwise noted.

8:10 p.m. – With space shuttle Endeavour safely in orbit, we will draw NASA’s Launch Blog to a close. Thanks for joining us today, and continue to check back to NASA’s Web site for continuing updates through this mission to the International Space Station. We will be back again for landing with a detailed account of Endeavour’s return to Earth. NASA TV will also offer continuing coverage and updates on STS-126.

Good night from Firing Room 3 at Kennedy Space Center!

8:04 p.m. - External Tank is jettisoned and Endeavour is safely in orbit! All systems are running well.

8:03 p.m. - MECO! Main Engine Cutoff. Endeavour will jettison the external tank momentarily.

7:59 p.m. - Four minutes into flight, Endeavour is moving faster than 6,000 mph. All engines working well.

7:58 p.m. – Endeavour jettisoned the two solid rocket boosters. Its three liquid-fueled main engines are working properly. The shuttle continues to pick up speed.

7:56 p.m. – Endeavour is soaring through the sound barrier as it quickly picks up speed. It is riding about seven million pounds of thrust from the combined power of its twin solid rocket boosters and three main engines.

7:55 p.m. - “Preparing our home in space for a larger international family,” said Launch Commentator Candrea Thomas.

7:55 p.m. – LIFTOFF of space shuttle Endeavour!

77:54 p.m. – T- one minute and counting . . . All systems go for launch!

7:53 p.m. – T-2 minutes and counting . . . The oxygen vent arm is retracting out of Endeavour’s way.

7:52 p.m. – T-3 minutes and counting . . . The three main engines are moving through a series of tests to make sure they are ready for launch.

7:50 p.m. – T-5 minutes and counting . . . The Auxiliary Power Unit aboard Endeavour is powering up. Commander Chris Ferguson said his crew will "Take space station construction to the next level" with STS-126.

7:48 p.m. – T-7 minutes and counting . . . The Orbiter Access Arm is retracting away from Endeavour’s hatch. It can be swung back into place in case of an emergency. "Good luck, Godspeed and have happy Thanksgiving in orbit," Launch Director Mike Leinbach told the astronauts.

7:46 p.m. - T-9 minutes and counting . . . Launch controllers have cleared the door issue, saying it does not pose a hazard to Endeavour as it climbs away from the launch pad. All launch teams are go for launch.

7:40 p.m. - Launch controllers are discussing a potential issue with a door in the White Room. There is concern whether the door has been pinned back. The door in question is not on Endeavour.

7:15 p.m. – For those just joining NASA’s Launch Blog today, Endeavour is on schedule to lift off at 7:55 p.m.

STS-126 is known as a utilization and logistics flight to the International Space Station. Endeavour is carrying a cargo module called Leonardo that has been loaded with about 14,500 pounds of equipment and supplies. The gear includes a water recycling system, new crew quarters, an exercise device and a space kitchen. Once installed and operational, the equipment will support a station resident crew of six instead of the current three.

7:05 p.m. – A beautiful orange full moon has emerged just over the horizon at Kennedy to provide a fitting backdrop for the launch of Endeavour. Many of the experiments taking place on the International Space Station are focused on aspects of returning astronauts to the moon. For example, the water recycling system the astronauts will install in the space station will test processes that can be improved for moon missions in the future.

7:01 p.m. – T-9 minutes and holding . . . The countdown for STS-126 has entered its last built-in hold. The countdown will resume at about 7:46 p.m. aiming for a 7:55 p.m. launch.

6:55 p.m. - One hour before launch. There are no technical issues and weather conditions are expected to remain favorable. The Closeout Crew has left the launch pad.

6:50 p.m. – The countdown has resumed and is now T-19 minutes and counting. The last planned hold will take place at T-9 minutes. It will last 45 minutes and give flight controllers an opportunity to refine the launch time to put Endeavour on the best track to catch the International Space Station.

6:45 p.m. - As Endeavour leaves the launch pad, it will fly generally northeast, roughly paralleling the East Coast of the United States. Because the liftoff is taking place at night, people along the coast could have a better chance of seeing the shuttle streak overhead, depending on local conditions.

6:40 p.m. – At T-20 minutes, the countdown has entered a planned hold. The pause will last 10 minutes. Weather concerns continue to fade as the weather forecast has increased to an 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time. There are no technical issues and everything remains on pace to launch Endeavour tonight on a mission to the International Space Station.

6:35 p.m. – The Closeout Crew has put the final seals on the hatch and is packing up the White Room before leaving the launch pad.

6:10 p.m. - At T-50 minutes and counting, launch controllers report working through a technical issue with a computer processor that sends data from a high-altitude weather balloon. The problem did not pose a threat to launch. NASA uses large weather balloons to record conditions in the upper atmosphere leading up to launch. The countdown is proceeding on schedule.

6 p.m. - Endeavour's hatch has been closed and latched shut. The Closeout Crew will leave the launch pad shortly. The hatch is built to open if there is an emergency that requires the astronauts to evacuate the shuttle.

5:55 p.m. - Two hours to launch. Shuttle Endeavour has shown no technical issues during the countdown and the weather appears to be cooperating, as well. The sun has set at Kennedy and Endeavour is illuminated on the launch pad. The Closeout Crew is preparing to close and latch Endeavour's hatch for flight.

5:40 p.m. - Working out of two firing rooms, the launch team performs numerous checks and tests leading up to launch. One firing room houses the launch director, NASA test directors -- known as NTDs – and system engineers who monitor individual shuttle systems throughout the countdown. If they notice an issue, they call on managers and engineers in a second firing room who will track down the problem in detail and offer solutions. The process allows the engineer in the first firing room to keep up with fast-changing events while an issue is given proper attention.

A third is used to oversee the processing of shuttles for future missions. The fourth firing room has been completely rebuilt to support NASA’s new rocket, the Ares I. That firing room, named for the first shuttle crew of John Young and Robert Crippen, will guide the first test flight of the Ares I program next year.

5:25 p.m. - Astronaut Steve Bowen has taken his seat on the flight deck.

5:14 p.m. - The astronauts are conducting radio checks with launch controllers at Kennedy and mission controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. They will test their microphones individually before testing them all as a group.

5:11 p.m. - Steve Bowen will be the last crew member inside the shuttle. Bowen is the first submariner to fly for NASA. As the flight engineer, he will aid Commander Chris Ferguson during ascent. Bowen will call out launch milestones and perform other duties so Ferguson can keep his attention focused on the launch.

5 p.m. - Shane Kimbrough has donned a cloth, black headset that the astronauts wear under their helmets. He will enter Endeavour momentarily. Kimbrough began his NASA career flying in the Shuttle Training Aircraft as a flight engineer so commanders and pilots could simulate landing a shuttle returning from space.

4:55 p.m. - It's now Donald Pettit's turn to take a spot inside the shuttle. Because he sits on the flight deck, which is the upper level of the crew compartment, he will help Pilot Eric Boe keep track of events during the flight into orbit by reading off milestones during ascent and taking care of other duties.

4:50 p.m. - Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper is preparing for her move into the shuttle. She is an accomplished Navy diver who found a natural career as a spacewalker. When training for a spacewalk, astronauts spend many hours underwater at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

4:45 p.m. - Pilot Eric Boe is taking his seat in Endeavour's cockpit. Toward the end of the mission, Boe will fly Endeavour around the International Space Station as astronauts survey the orbiting laboratory.

4:35 p.m. - Sandra Magnus is the next into Endeavour. As an International Space Station crew member, she is also trained to fly aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. STS-126 is her second flight. She served as a mission specialist during the STS-112 mission in 2002.

4:32 p.m. - Commander Chris Ferguson is the first to climb inside Endeavour. Smiling, he waved to his family before boarding the spacecraft. He will literally climb into his seat because he will be laying on his back for launch. All the astronauts have to lift their legs over their head as they get in their seats for the liftoff.

4:22 p.m. - The astronauts have arrived at the base of Launch Pad 39A. They can admire the spectacular sight for a couple minutes before getting into the elevator and heading up to the 195-foot level. They will take a short walkway to the White Room and Endeavour's hatch. Only a couple astronauts go inside the White Room at a time because of its size. They also board Endeavour in a specific order to best use the space inside the crew compartment.

4:15 p.m. - The astronauts are riding to the launch pad under clear skies with a hint of clouds. The weather concerns have not materialized thus far and the forecast continues to look good heading toward launch time this evening.

4:05 p.m. - STS-126 Commander Chris Ferguson leads his crew out of the Operations and Checkout Building and into the Astrovan. The Astrovan will take the seven astronauts to Endeavour on Launch Pad 39A. It will take about 30 minutes for the astronauts to reach the launch pad and make their way up to the White Room where they will board Endeavour.

4 p.m. - The countdown has resumed at T-3 hours and counting. The countdown will proceed to the T-20-minute mark where it will hold for a planned 10 minutes. There are no technical issues and the process is moving along smoothly.

3:45 p.m. - The astronauts have donned orange launch-and-entry suits in the Operations & Checkout building. The suit room is just down the hall from the Astronaut Crew Quarters inside the O&C building. The crew will soon leave the building for a ride in the Astrovan out to Launch Pad 39A where Endeavour is waiting for them.

3:25 p.m. - In the interest of scene-setting, here is a taste of what the firing rooms look like.

They are housed inside the Launch Control Center at Kennedy Space Center about three miles away from Launch Complex 39A.

Each room is big enough to house an average fast-food restaurant. Vast windows angled skyward and facing Launch Complex 39A and 39B make up one wall. Several rows of consoles near the back row are on risers like the seats in a stadium-style movie theater. This is where the launch director and senior members of the launch team sit.

A pair of small rooms separated by glass occupy each corner of the overall firing room. Senior NASA officials monitor the countdown from there.

The rest of the floor is taken by cabinets in large horseshoe patterns. This is where most of the launch team sits. Nameplates stand on each cabinet to show the controllers’ responsibility, such as the shuttle main engines.

There are about 100 controllers in the room, including the launch director and managers. Each controller has monitors and can call up camera angles covering almost every angle of the shuttle on the launch pad. They can zoom in on small areas to assess conditions during the count.

They also have numerous audio networks they can dial into to talk to other controllers and give status reports. The networks are called “loops” and controllers are known to develop keen hearing that lets them listen to several ongoing conversations at a time without losing their way. There are also several telephones around every station.

The primary firing room has computer consoles built into wood-colored cabinets that give it the look of a corporate conference room. Firing Room 3, where the Launch Blog is based for this mission, looks more like the Hollywood portrayal of control rooms in such films as "Space Cowboys" and "Apollo 13." The cabinets are blue metal and the monitors a bit smaller. PC screens and towers have been installed throughout the firing room and the controllers have the same access to audio and video loops as their counterparts in the other firing rooms.

3:20 p.m. - The weather outlook is improving and Launch Director Mike Leinbach sees little chance for interference with tonight's launch attempt. The countdown remains on schedule for a 7:55 p.m. liftoff.

3:10 p.m. - Launch day activities involve sites throughout NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The Launch Control Center is the nerve center for launch. It was designed around four firing rooms for the Saturn V moon rocket, the most powerful booster NASA ever built. The LCC, as it is called, is a four-story building standing next to the gargantuan Vehicle Assembly Building.

A vast array of cables and wiring connects the LCC with the shuttle processing hangars and the Vehicle Assembly Building so engineers in the firing rooms can perform numerous tests on the shuttles as they are readied for launch.

3 p.m. - Seven astronauts will fly Endeavour to the International Space Station. They are commanded by Chris Ferguson, a veteran astronaut who served as pilot on STS-115. He will sit in the left-hand seat at the front of the cockpit.

Eric Boe will sit in the right-hand seat at the front of the cockpit as pilot of Endeavour during Boe’s first mission. His controls are duplicates of Ferguson’s, and Boe can fly the shuttle from his position.

As the flight engineer, Mission Specialist Steve Bowen, also a first-time flier, will sit behind and between Ferguson and Boe. Mission Specialist Donald Pettit, who lived aboard the station for five months, will sit next to Bowen on the upper level of Endeavour’s crew compartment.

Three mission specialists will sit on the lower level. Veteran astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper will sit closest to the hatch. Once in space, she will be the lead spacewalker for three excursions outside the orbiting laboratory.

Shane Kimbrough, who will also make three spacewalks, will sit in the middle seat during launch. Sandra Magnus will ride into orbit in the seat farthest from the hatch. She will not return aboard Endeavour, but instead remain on the International Space Station for a long-duration mission. Current station resident Greg Chamitoff will take her place aboard Endeavour.

2:55 p.m. - Endeavour stands poised for space at Launch Complex 39A. A team of technicians called the Closeout Crew is preparing for their role of getting the STS-126 astronauts into the orbiter. The astronauts will not arrive until about 4:35 p.m. Another team called the Final Inspection Team has been scanning the shuttle stack for signs of ice buildup on the external tank. They use infrared scanners and binoculars to survey the tank.

2:50 p.m. - With the launch team working no technical issues, all eyes are watching the weather. Meteorologists are tracking an approaching cold front that appears to be on pace to arrive Saturday. The forecast calls for a 70 percent chance that Endeavour will face acceptable conditions at launch time. Currently, there are only wisps of white clouds at the launch site.

2:45 p.m. - The gigantic external tank attached to space shuttle Endeavour was loaded with 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen this morning beginning at about 11 a.m. It took about 2½ hours to fill the tank with the propellants that fuel the shuttle’s three main engines during the 8½-minute climb into space.

A team of controllers in Firing Room 4 watched their monitors as the hydrogen and oxygen flowed into the tank. The fueling is performed by remote control, with the launch team commanding valves to open so the chemicals can run from storage tanks at Launch Complex 39A.

Pipes carry the oxygen and hydrogen to the mobile launcher platform holding Endeavour, its boosters and tank. The propellants run through a network of lines on the platform and into Endeavour’s aft compartment and then into the tank itself.

The flow reverses during launch, when all the stored propellants are siphoned quickly back into Endeavour to feed the main engines.

The controllers will continue to examine the readouts from sensors inside the shuttle and tank throughout the countdown to make sure the fuel levels remain full. The oxygen is kept at minus-297 degrees and the hydrogen is minus-423 degrees – both cold enough to liquefy into a slush. Some of the gases warm up just enough to evaporate out, however, so a trickle of oxygen and hydrogen keep flowing to the tank to replace the evaporating gas.

2:40 p.m. - The countdown is in a built-in hold at T-3 hours, but everything remains on schedule for a 7:55 p.m. liftoff. The countdown will resume at 4 p.m. and the astronauts will leave the Astronaut Crew Quarters a few minutes later to make their way to the launch pad.

2:30 p.m. - Good afternoon from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where space shuttle Endeavour will thunder into space in a few hours at 7:55 p.m. EST. The shuttle has been loaded with equipment and supplies bound for the International Space Station. About 14,500 pounds of cargo is inside the Leonardo module. Endeavour is also carrying a platform in its payload bay that holds a 2,000-pound device called a Flex Hose Rotary Coupler Unit.

Today’s launch blog comes from inside Firing Room 3 of the Launch Control Center at Kennedy. As the countdown moves toward liftoff, we will give you a taste of some of the activity inside the firing rooms.

Live Coverage Team
Blog Updates: Steven Siceloff
Site Updates: Elaine Marconi
Video Uploads/Captions: Anna Heiney
Quality Control: Rebecca Sprague
Photo Gallery: Cheryl Mansfield
Video Production: Aly Lee
Video Capture/Editing: Chris Chamberland,
Michael Chambers and Gianni Woods