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Perfect Launch Aims Atlantis at Space Station

Shuttle: A threat of rain dries up, allowing for an on-time liftoff. The crew's agenda includes unloading supplies and a spacewalk.

September 09, 2000|From Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The space shuttle Atlantis blasted into orbit Friday and gave chase to the international space station, providing a perfect kickoff to the torrent of launches that lies ahead.

It was the first time a shuttle took off on its first try since John Glenn's return to orbit in 1998.

What's more, Atlantis' launch was flawless--welcome news for a space agency planning to fly to the space station eight times over the next year.

"It's a great day," said NASA's new launch director, Mike Leinbach.

All week, the space agency had worried that rain might postpone Atlantis' supply delivery mission. But the storm remained offshore, allowing the shuttle boosters to ignite at 8:45 a.m. EDT, right on time.

"Make station into a home," Launch Control urged the seven astronauts and cosmonauts.

"We intend to do just that," replied commander Terrence Wilcutt.

The uninhabited space station was soaring over Hungary, 6,600 miles away, when Atlantis vaulted off the pad. It should catch up early Sunday.

Wilcutt and his crew will arrive at a space station that's nearly twice as big as it was the last time astronauts visited in May. The reason is Russia's Zvezda control module, which soared up in July after more than two years of delays.

Because of its heft, Zvezda had to be launched without most of its contents. Those went up on a Russian supply ship that docked in August.

The five Americans and two Russians will have to unload the supply ship as well as the shuttle.

Among the thousands of pounds of gear for use by the first permanent crew, due to arrive in November: an oxygen generator, a carbon-dioxide removal system, a color TV monitor, a ham radio, an exercise machine, batteries, wrenches, sockets, flashlights and, not to be forgotten, a toilet.

There are also American and Russian meals, a food warmer, gas masks, note pads, pens, Russian-to-English and English-to-Russian dictionaries, towels, toothpaste, soap, sun block and no-rinse shampoo.

The shuttle crew members will have just four days to haul everything into the space station and put it away or set it up, unless they can conserve enough power for an extra day. Shuttle officials are optimistic the flight will be extended to 12 days, thanks to Atlantis' on-time launch.

Before anyone ventures inside, however, two of the crew will go out on a spacewalk.

Astronaut Edward Lu and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko on Monday will hook up power and data cables between Zvezda and the rest of the Russian segment and install a 6 1/2-foot boom for an instrument that measures Earth's magnetic field.

They will have to climb 110 feet up the 140-foot space station, hand over hand, to do the job. No one has ever ventured so far from the shuttle while tethered.

Even more spacewalks--four--are planned for the next shuttle visit, by Discovery next month. That's when the real construction work begins.

The U.S. power supply will go up on Endeavour in November, and the American lab, Destiny, will fly on Atlantis in January.

NASA expects construction to last well into 2006.

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