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The BBC's Ania Lichtarowicz
"It is the Italian-developed Raffaello module that has given Umberto Guidoni his ticket to the International Space Station"
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Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Space station mission set for launch
Endeavour on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, AP
Endeavour on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral
Final preparations are being made for the launch of the next mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to lift off on Thursday, carrying a giant robotic arm that will be used as a construction crane.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield in training
The seven-strong crew includes the first European astronaut to visit the ISS, Italian astronaut Umberto Guidoni.

He joins four US colleagues, one Russian and one Canadian on the 11-day mission.

The seven astronauts arrived at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on Monday, several hours before the countdown clocks began ticking.

The major objective of the mission is to install the space station's new 17-metre-long (57 feet) robotic arm, built in Canada.

The most advanced robotic device ever to be 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
"The arm is absolutely critical in terms of being able to operate and assemble the station", said Tommy Holloway, Nasa's manager of the program. "Without it, we will not be able to complete the station."

Two spacewalks will be required to fit and connect the device.

Endeavour is also loaded with an Italian cargo carrier, named Raffaello after the 16th-century artist.

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


In preparation for Endeavour's arrival, the three residents of the space station undocked a Russian supply ship on Monday.

The robotic arm
The Canadian-built robotic crane is known as the 'Big Arm'
The ship was loaded with rubbish and directed to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Russian station commander Yuri Usachev and his US crewmates, Jim Voss and Susan Helms, 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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See also:

07 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
Destiny lab lifts off
02 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Crew enters historic home
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