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NASA Launches Space Shuttle Atlantis

Atlantis on pad - file image
by Jean-Louis Santini
Cape Canaveral FL (SPX) Jun 09, 2007
The US space shuttle Atlantis successfully blasted off Friday from the Kennedy Space Center for a mission to the orbiting International Space Station, the first shuttle mission of 2007.

The shuttle rocketed into a clear blue sky at 7:38 p.m. (2338 GMT) as scheduled.

The rocket boosters separated from the orbiter two minutes after launch, and plunged into the Atlantic where they will be recovered and reused in future missions.

And less than nine minutes after liftoff the space craft reached orbit over Earth.

"It's a very good day for NASA and this nation's space program," said Rex Geveden, NASA associate administrator for space operations, speaking at a press conference after the blastoff.

"What a great way to start the year and this mission," gushed shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach. "It's a great launch, it's the first step in a very challenging mission."

A team of NASA specialists studied the launch video, "and the preliminary word is that we lost no foam off, at least in the preliminary report," said shuttle program manager Wayne Hale.

The space shuttle Columbia's heat shield was pierced by foam insulation that peeled off its fuel tank during liftoff, causing the shuttle to disintegrate as it returned to Earth with seven astronauts aboard in February 2003.

NASA engineers since modified the external fuel tank to prevent large pieces of foam from falling off during liftoff, and set procedures to check the shuttle's heat shield while in orbit.

During their 11-day trip the seven Atlantis astronauts plan to install a new, 16-tonne truss segment on the ISS and deliver a third set of solar panels, as well as batteries for the orbiting laboratory.

Three spacewalks lasting six-and-a-half hours each are planned on the fourth, sixth and eighth days of the mission.

The ISS is a key stepping stone for preparing future manned missions to Mars.

The shuttle blastoff had been originally scheduled for March 15, but was delayed after hail from a freak February storm damaged the shuttle's external fuel tank as it sat on the launch pad. The damaged forced NASA to bring the shuttle back to its hangar for repairs.

The Atlantis mission is the fifth shuttle trip since the Columbia tragedy of February 2003, when the orbiter disintegrated as it re-entered the atmosphere, killing its seven astronauts.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials plan at least 13 more shuttle missions to finish the 100-billion-dollar station by 2010, when the US space agency retires its three-shuttle fleet.

The weather Friday posed no major problem, even though the area frequently sees afternoon thunderstorms.

The Atlantis mission is led by Commander Frederick Sturckow, 45, a marine colonel, who will be joined in the cockpit by co-pilot Lee Archambault, 46, an air force colonel.

The crew includes mission specialists James Reilly, 53, Patrick Forrester, 50, Steven Swanson, 46, and John Olivas, 42.

The seventh passenger, Clayton Anderson, 48, will stay behind at the ISS for a four-month mission while Atlantis brings back to Earth flight engineer Sunita Williams, who has been working at the space station since December.

earlier related report
Pre Launch Report
Final preparations were under way Friday for the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis for the first mission of the year, with weather conditions looking good for a blastoff to the International Space Station. The seven shuttle astronauts arrived at the launchpad in the afternoon dressed in their orange survival suits and began boarding the shuttle, which is scheduled to take off at 7:38 pm (2338 GMT).

"We are optimistic we have a good chance to launch tonight," NASA spokesman Allan Beutel said.

In March, a launch date was scrapped due to hail damage. But shuttle officials said there had been no technical problems as the countdown continued ahead of the scheduled liftoff at the Kennedy Space Center on Florida's Atlantic coast.

The weather was not expected to be a problem, with launch meteorologist Kathy Winters upgrading the chance of good weather conditions to 80 percent.

The area frequently sees afternoon thunderstorms, but Winters said the storms were expected to stay to the west of the space center and not threaten the launch.

NASA gave a green light early Friday to filling up the external fuel tank, signaling that the countdown to launch was in the home stretch.

If a delay became inevitable, NASA would have until June 12 to launch the shuttle, after which a few days would have to be set aside to allow the launch of a military satellite, since NASA and the Air Force share the space center's radars to track shuttle and rocket launches.

In March, a freak hail storm damaged the shuttle's massive external fuel tank as the orbiter stood on its Florida launch pad, forcing NASA to bring it back to its hangar for repairs.

The astronauts arrived in Cape Canaveral late Monday from their base at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to prepare for the 21st shuttle mission to the ISS.

During their 11-day mission they plan to install a new, 16-tonne truss segment on the ISS and deliver a third set of solar panels as well as batteries for the orbiting laboratory.

Three spacewalks lasting six-and-a-half hours each are planned on the fourth, sixth and eighth days of the mission.

NASA plans at least 13 shuttle missions to finish the 100-billion-dollar station by 2010, when the US space agency retires its three-shuttle fleet.

The Atlantis mission is led by Commander Frederick Sturckow, 45, a marine colonel, who will be joined in the cockpit by co-pilot Lee Archambault, 46, an air force colonel.

The crew includes mission specialists James Reilly, 53, Patrick Forrester, 50, Steven Swanson, 46, and John Olivas, 42.

The seventh passenger, Clayton Anderson, 48, will stay behind at the ISS for a four-month mission while Atlantis brings back to Earth flight engineer Sunita Williams, who has been working at the space station since December.

Atlantis will be the fifth shuttle mission since the Columbia tragedy of February 2003, when the orbiter disintegrated as it re-entered the atmosphere, killing its seven astronauts.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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NASA Sets Hubble Mission Launch For September 2008
Houston (UPI) June 7, 2007
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