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US space shuttle Endeavour lifts off
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"All systems are working well ... Endeavour is making its way to the International Space Station," NASA's launch blog updated after the shuttle successfully jettisoned its twin solid rocket boosters and its three main engines have shut down as planned.

The Endeavour and its seven-member crew will spend 16 days in space, the longest visit by space shuttle to the International Space Station (ISS).

Designated as STS-123, the mission is NASA's second shuttle flight in 2008. It is delivering the first part of Japan's orbital laboratory Kibo, a two-armed robot made by Canada, and a collection of experiments to the ISS.

Kibo, a Japanese word for "hope," is a huge orbital laboratory that NASA arranges three shuttle flights to carry every parts to the space station. The first part is a storage compartment, and the main part of the lab is scheduled to launch on the next shuttle mission in May. The final section, an outdoor porch with robotic arms, is due to fly next year.

Japan has been waiting a very long time for the launch of Kibo. JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, began planning its own permanent space laboratory around in 1990, costing about 2.4 billion US dollars.

The other important piece in Endeavour's payload is a robot called Dextre. It was developed and built in Canada. The two-armed robotic system is designed to assist spacewalking astronauts with maintenance and construction duties outside the station.

Led by Commander Dominic Gorie, the Endeavour crew include a Japanese astronaut Takao Doi representing JAXA. During their 12-day stay at the ISS, five spacewalks will be carried out, the most ever conducted by the crew of a visiting shuttle. Spacewalkers will attach the first component of Kibo complex and install Dextre to the outside of the station.

The crew's mission specialists Garrett Reisman will not return on Endeavour, but will move into the station for a long-duration mission. He will trade places with European Space Agency's astronaut Leopold Eyharts, who arrived at the station aboard shuttle Atlantis in February.

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