It is the first night launch since Endeavour lifted off on November 23, 2002.

 

Space station

 

Nasa plans to finish building the space station by 2010, when the shuttle fleet, now down to three craft, is to be retired.

 

The three shuttle launches following the loss of Colombia - in August 2005, and in July and September 2006 - were scheduled during daylight so the exterior of the shuttle could be closely monitored for loose insulating material on the craft during take-off.

 

A piece of insulating foam damaged Columbia's heat shield shortly after launch, leading to the shuttle disintegrating upon re-entry into the atmosphere.

 

The September 2006 shuttle launch marked the resumption of the space station’s construction, after the previous two missions focused on improving safety.

 

A pair of power-producing solar arrays were added to the ISS in September and will be activated during the Discovery mission.