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NASA Launches Atlantis

AFP file image of a shuttle launch
by Staff Writers
Cape Canaveral FL (AFP) Feb 07, 2008
Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew of seven finally headed into space Thursday after a long-delayed mission to the International Space Station to deliver the European Columbus space lab.

"All systems are go," launch director Doug Lyons told the crew. "I'd like to wish you a successful mission and safe return."

The shuttle took off at 2:45 pm local time despite threatened weather problems.

Less than one minute after leaving the ground, the shuttle's massive engines had Atlantis flying at more than 6,000 kilometers (3,200) per hour and the craft reached orbit in less than 10 minutes.

The crew, including one Frenchman and one German, is on a mission to deliver the 10-tonne European laboratory unit Columbus to the ISS, which is being developed as a jumping-off point for exploration to Mars and beyond.

With room inside for three people and operated by ground staff at a control center near Munich, Germany, Columbus will enable the European Space Agency to conduct experiments related to biotechnology, medicine, materials and liquids.

The lab cost some 1.3 billion euros (two billion dollars), paid mostly by Germany, Italy and France.

The main task for the mission is to use the ISS's robot arm to transfer Columbus out of Atlantis's payload bay and attach it to the space station.

Three spacewalks are scheduled during the mission, which is seen as a major step forward for European ambitions in space.

The Atlantis crew includes astronauts Leopold Eyharts of France and Hans Schlegel of Germany. Currently US and Russian astronauts are aboard the space station.

Schlegel will conduct two spacewalks during the flight to connect power and fluid lines between Columbus and the ISS.

Eyharts will begin Europe's second longest stay on the space station by replacing US astronaut Dan Tani. The German astronaut of ESA, Thomas Reiter, stayed six months in the station in 2006.

Atlantis was originally scheduled for blastoff on December 6 as part of the tight schedule of shuttle flights to complete the ISS construction by 2010, when the three-craft US shuttle fleet is to be retired.

But malfunctioning circuits in the fuel gauges of the spacecraft's liquid hydrogen tank forced a two-month delay.

Senior NASA official Bill Gerstenmayer has said engineers tracked down the cause of the recurrent problem and it has been fixed.

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NASA Plans To Launch Up To Six Space Shuttles In 2008
Washington (RIA Novosti) Feb 06, 2008
NASA plans to carry out up to six space shuttle launches in 2008, including a flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope, a space agency official has said. NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said the agency is also making progress in developing the Orion spacecraft and Ares launch vehicles to replace the aging shuttle fleet and prepare for journeys to the moon and beyond.

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