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The BBC's Andrew Burroughs
"The most international space crew ever"
 real 56k

Friday, 20 April, 2001, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Endeavour heads to space station
Endeavour lifts off from Kennedy Space Center
Bound for space: Giant robot arm, multinational crew
The US space shuttle Endeavour is closing in on the International Space Station (ISS), in a mission to install a giant robotic arm.

Endeavour heading for orbit, Nasa
Endeavour's launch went without a hitch
Endeavour's seven-strong crew includes the first European Space Agency astronaut to visit the ISS, Italian astronaut Umberto Guidoni.

He joins four US colleagues, one Russian and one Canadian on the mission.

The team blasted-off from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on Thursday, for a 12-day mission.

The 'Big Arm'

The 17-metre (57-foot) robotic arm on board the shuttle will be fitted to the ISS and used as a construction crane as building work on the platform continues.

The most advanced robotic device ever sent into space, it is designed to move itself about the station wherever it is needed.

The 'Big Arm'
Can lift the weight of an entire space shuttle
Each of its seven joints can rotate 270 degrees forward or backward
Will be used to attach an airlock to the ISS and fit solar power panels
Tommy Holloway, Nasa's manager of the ISS program, said: "The arm is absolutely critical in terms of being able to operate and assemble the station.

"Without it, we will not be able to complete the station."

Two spacewalks will be required to fit and connect the device, dubbed the 'Big Arm' or Canadarm.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield will take part in both of them, becoming the first Canadian to walk in space.

The robotic arm
The Canadian-built robotic crane is known as the 'Big Arm'
Endeavour is also loaded with an Italian cargo carrier, named Raffaello after the 16th-century artist.

Creature comforts

It will be the second of three Italian cargo carriers to be launched to the space station. Leonardo hauled up supplies last month.

If all goes to plan, the Endeavour crew will dock with the ISS on Saturday. Spacewalks are planned for Sunday and Tuesday.

They will meet Russian station commander Yuri Usachev and his US crewmates, Jim Voss and Susan Helms, who have been living aboard the ISS since mid-March.

The shuttle crew is bringing them a two-month supply of food, spare parts for a broken treadmill and computer pieces.

There are also a few luxuries, including Canadian salmon and Italian parmesan cheese.

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Launch console
See also:

19 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Endeavour lifts off with space crane
07 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
Destiny lab lifts off
02 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Crew enters historic home
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