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Atlantis Lifts Off on Mission to Study Earth's Atmosphere

November 04, 1994|Associated Press

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Space shuttle Atlantis and its six astronauts blasted off Thursday on an 11-day voyage to study Earth's atmosphere, including the ozone layer and its gaping hole over the Antarctic.

The weather at the shuttle emergency landing site in Morocco improved enough to allow Atlantis to lift off at 9 a.m. PST, four minutes late.

"The Earth looks just as beautiful as it always did," commander Donald McMonagle said upon reaching orbit.

The five Americans and one Frenchman aboard quickly began preparing for the atmospheric observations from their 190-mile-high orbit.

The shuttle is carrying seven instruments from the United States and Europe that will scour the stratosphere for ozone and other chemicals and examine solar energy.

Scientists are particularly interested in the ozone hole over the Antarctic that forms every fall. The hole is 9 million square miles this year, about the size of North America.

To study the hole, the shuttle will fly above a point just south of Cape Horn, at the tip of South America.

The ozone layer is essential to life on Earth. It protects humans and other organisms from the sun's ultraviolet rays.

The mission is the seventh and final shuttle flight of the year, but the first by Atlantis since 1992. The ship's modifications included installation of wiring needed for Atlantis to dock with Russia's space station Mir next May.

Atlantis also is carrying a German satellite with infrared telescopes for studying the atmosphere. The crew will release it today and retrieve it eight days later.

Before capturing the satellite, the shuttle pilots will practice a rendezvous technique for next year's Mir dockings.

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