We have lift-off! Yorkshire astronaut takes off for space station

SPACE shuttle Endeavour - whose crew includes a North Yorkshire-born man - rocketed into orbit on what is likely to be the last night-time launch for the programme.

Dr Nicholas Patrick, originally from Saltburn-by-the-Sea, near Guisborough, was one of the six crew on-board the shuttle for the pre-dawn launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The sky was ignited with a brilliant flash seen for miles around. Thick, low clouds that had delayed a first launch attempt on Sunday returned, but then cleared away just in time.

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There are just four more missions scheduled this year before the shuttles are retired.

Endeavour's destination, the International Space Station, was soaring over Romania at the time of lift-off. The shuttle is set to arrive at the station early on Wednesday.

Commander George Zamka and his crew will deliver and install Tranquility, a new room that will eventually house life-support equipment, exercise machines and a toilet, as well as a seven-windowed observation dome which has the biggest window ever sent into space, a circle 79 centimetres across. It will be the last major construction job at the space station. Both the new room and observation dome - together exceeding 400 million - were supplied by the European Space Agency.

Launch manager Mike Moses said he got "evil glares" in the control centre for making his team report to work on Super Bowl night. He noted that the shuttle's fuel tank was made in New Orleans. "They were at least happy with the results of the game," he said with a smile.

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Monday morning's countdown ended up being uneventful, except for a last-minute run to the launch pad. Astronaut Stephen Robinson forgot the binder holding all his flight data files, and the emergency red team had to rush it out to him, just before he climbed aboard.

A quick look at the launch video showed a few pieces of foam insulation breaking off Endeavour's external fuel tank, but none appeared to strike the shuttle, officials said.

The 13-day mission comes at an agonising time for Nasa. Exactly one week ago, the space agency finally got its marching orders from President Barack Obama, who ordered them to ditch the back-to-the-moon Constellation programme and its Ares rockets and focus on an as-yet-unspecified rocket and destination.

Nasa's boss, ex-astronaut Charles Bolden, favours Mars. But he, too, is waiting to hear how everything will play out.

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Dr Patrick, 45, who has already logged 308 hours in space, is part of a small band of British-born astronauts to have made it into space. In 2006 he was part of a seven-member Discovery crew that blasted off for a 12-day mission to the International Space Station.

Married with three children, Dr Patrick lives in Connecticut having become a US citizen in 1994. But his desire to explore dates back to his early years in Yorkshire when he lived close to where Captain James Cook once resided.

"We would go walking in the Yorkshire Moors, and go and see the monument that was erected to him and that's one of my earliest memories actually of wanting to be an explorer," he said in a Nasa interview.