The shuttle Endeavour thundered off its launch pad early this morning, carrying seven astronauts and two major pieces of hardware to the International Space Station. On board is a $1 billion science module that contains research gear for the station's lab, the first Japanese contribution to the orbital base, reports the Houston Chronicle. Also accompanying the astronauts is a 12-foot, spacewalking Canadian robot bearing the name Dextre.
Endeavour will dock with the space station tomorrow; over 12 days, the astronauts will undertake an ambitious agenda of five spacewalks. Steve Robinson, who made three spacewalks in 2005, described the work of the astronauts as physically and mentally taxing. "It's like working out in a gym all day while you are playing in a chess tournament," he said.