The Space Shuttle Blasts Into The Night

Early this morning in the pre-dawn hours, the space shuttle Endeavor shot into space for a two-week trip to the International Space Station. This will be its last nighttime launch.

This launch occurred amid the controversy that began last week when President Obama announced his future plans for the NASA space program, which included scrapping a program to build replacements for the space shuttles, which will retire after 2010. The Endeavor is on one of its final flights, and before it launched, NASA chief Charles Bolden told reporters that Obama's plan is "screwed up," and swore he would fight it.

Endeavor is delivering two new rooms to the ISS, designed by the European Space Agency. Space.com has the story:

Endeavour's crew is delivering a new room called Tranquility and an observation dome called the Cupola that is covered in windows. Three spacewalks and some tricky robotic arm acrobatics are on tap to install the new additions.

"This is a big construction mission," [astronaut Stephen] Robinson said before launch. "We're going to go and add not just a new room on the house, but probably the most complex room on the house."

Named after NASA's historic Apollo 11 moon base, the Tranquility module is a 24-foot (7.3-meter) long cylinder that is nearly 15 feet (4.5 meters) wide and weighs about 40,000 pounds (18,143 kg). The $382 million module will be the home for the station's life support, exercise and robotic arm control systems.

The Cupola is a seven-window observation deck with a huge round central pane that is the largest single window ever to fly in space. The $27.2 million portal will be attached to an Earth-facing side of Tranquility and promises to give astronauts on the station unparalleled views of their home planet and space.

Image via JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images