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Space Shuttle Lights Up Night Sky

Endeavour embarks on a 13-day mission, one of the last for NASA's orbiter, to deliver key parts to the ISS.
Hours after Super Bowl fireworks lit up Miami, the Florida night sky was again ablaze as the space shuttle Endeavour lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in the shuttle program's last, scheduled night launch.

Endeavour blasted off at 4:14 a.m. EST, following a one-day delay caused by inclement weather.

"What a beautiful launch we had this morning, the orbiter performed extremely well," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Space Operations, in a statement. "This is a great start to a very complicated mission," said Gerstenmaier.

Endeavour is carrying a five-member crew, including commander George Zamka, pilot Terry Virts, and mission specialists Kay Hire, Steve Robinson, and Nicholas Patrick.

The crew will be busy throughout the 13-day mission, officially known as STS-130.

The mission's main goal is delivery of a connecting module to the International Space Station that will increase its interior space. The module comes with an attached cupola—a robotic, windowed control station that will provide panoramic views of the Earth, celestial objects, and other spacecraft, according to NASA.

The mission also calls for the astronauts to perform three spacewalks to conduct maintenance and repair operations on the ISS.

STS-130 is Endeavour's 24th flight and the 130th for the space shuttle program overall. NASA is discontinuing the program at the end of 2010, and there are only four remaining missions scheduled through the remainder of the year.

The Obama administration's budget request, officially unveiled last week, also calls for the space agency to discontinue the Constellation program, which would have seen NASA astronauts return to the moon by 2020.

The proposal has drawn criticism from Senators from both sides of the aisle, who claim the course change will result in job losses in states that contribute to the program.

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