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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Endeavor Braves Cold for Launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- Space shuttle Endeavor and its crew rocketed into orbit Thursday and began chasing a Japanese satellite loaded with dead newts, crystals and telescopes that need to be returned to Earth.

"It was a great ride uphill," commander Brian Duffy said, who is due back at Kennedy on Jan. 20.

The 2,000-ton spaceship rose from its seaside pad at 4:41 a.m., lighting the sky for kilometers around. Liftoff was delayed 23 minutes by an assortment of communication-system problems.

"Sorry it took us a couple extra minutes to get the engines started. But once you turned the key, you sure put on a great show," Mission Control told the six astronauts.

It was 6.5 degrees Celsius at liftoff, warm enough under the rules established after the 1986 Challenger disaster. NASA used heaters to protect crucial shuttle parts.

On Saturday, the five U.S. and one Japanese astronauts will use the shuttle robot arm to retrieve the Japanese satellite nearly 480 kilometers above Earth.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, 32, is the fourth Japanese in space. The engineer worked for Japan Airlines before becoming an astronaut in 1992.

The 4-ton reusable satellite holds two dead newts -- they died shortly after being launched from Japan last March -- and fertilized newt eggs, all part of a biological experiment. It also contains crystal-growth furnaces and infrared telescopes.

Duffy and his crew will release and retrieve a U.S. science satellite during the nine-day mission. Two spacewalks also are scheduled to practice station-style work; three men will go outside next week, two at a time, to build up crucial spacewalking experience.

U.S. astronauts alone will have to perform 200 to 250 hours of spacewalks per year from 1999 through 2001 to assemble the international space station. Japan is one of the station partners, and is aiming for a manned moon base of its own by the middle of the next century.