SPACE CENTER, Houston -- Space shuttle Endeavour darted toward the international space station early Thursday to deliver the fifth crew that will call the orbiting outpost home.
After thunderstorms and a leaky valve delayed its flight for nearly a week, Endeavour finally took off Wednesday afternoon.
When told the shuttle had launched, the three men who have been aboard space station Alpha since early December cheered the good news.
"You've done a great job up there, far exceeded what's been done before and we're very proud of you," Mission Control's Frank Culbertson told the Alpha crew.
"We look forward to seeing you soon," said Carl Walz, who has lived aboard Alpha for more than six months along with Daniel Bursch and Russian commander Yuri Onufrienko.
"It won't be long Carl. See you all later," said Culbertson, who was the previous space station commander.
The shuttle is set to arrive at Alpha on Friday and return the current crew to Earth on June 17.
By the time Endeavour's 12-day flight ends, Bursch and Walz will have set a U.S. space endurance record. Wednesday marked the crew's 182nd day in orbit.
Endeavour is delivering Alpha's newest crew: American Peggy Whitson and Russians Valery Korzun and Sergei Treschev. They will spend 4 1/2 months aboard the space station.
During the eight days that Endeavour is docked to Alpha, the shuttle crew will conduct three spacewalks to replace a faulty joint on the station's robotic arm and install a base that will enable the robot arm to move across the space station.
The 58-foot arm -- Canada's main space station contribution -- needs wrist surgery after one of its joints seized up. The arm needs to be fixed before the start of major construction later this year.
Security was tight for Wednesday's launch, as has been the case with all shuttle liftoffs since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
NASA tried to launch Endeavour last Thursday but thunderstorms pushed the liftoff to Monday. Then a pressure valve had to be replaced, and the launch was moved to Wednesday.
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