Friday, May 14, 2010

Shuttle Atlantis Lifts-off on Space Station Flight

The space shuttle Atlantis lifted-off today to begin a twelve day flight to deliver a new Russian module and fresh supplies to the International Space Station.

NASA's fourth space worthy orbiter began her thirty-second and what will likely be her final planned mission of her twenty-five year storied history.

At the helm of Atlantis is commander Kenneth Ham and pilot Tony Antonelli -- both pilots in the U.S. Navy. Mission specialists Garrett Reisman, Michael Good, Steve Bowen and Piers Sellers round out the crew of NASA's 132nd space shuttle mission.

"We're going to take her on her thirty-second flight, and if you don't mind, we'll take her out of the barn and make a few more laps around the planet," Ham radioed to the launch team minutes for resuming the countdown at T-9 minutes.

Atlantis' rocket boosters ignited on time at 2:20:09 pm EDT today, propelling 4.51 million pounds of hardware skyward and toward space.

Atlantis darted into the blue skies of the Florida coastline embarking on the third to final planned mission in the space shuttle program.

At the moment Atlantis launched, it's port-of-call flew 220 miles high over the southern Pacific Ocean.

The launch countdown was mostly trouble free as the weather improved in the final hour from 70% to 90% favorable for launch.

A 3-inch thin crack on the external tank's foam insulation was discovered by the "Ice Team" hours prior to launch. However, the launch team issued a waiver and discounted it as an issue to fly.

Any crack discovered on tank insulation created concern for the launch team following the Columbia damage incurred in 2003 due to loss foam at launch.

A 1/8th-inch ball bearing which is used on a pit pin which holds a payload bay camera in place was discovered loose on the aft bulk head on Monday. The bearing was then traced to the pit pin connector the following day.

For thirty minutes, the launch team and the mission management team discussed the issue, and with just seventeen minutes until the launch time, the teams cleared the technical issue IPR-045 with a waiver. Atlantis was then number one on the runway.

Atlantis has traveled now nearly 116 million miles since her first flight in October 1985 on a classified military satellite deployment mission. At 2:37 pm today, Atlantis was making her 4,463 revolution of the earth as she begun her 283 day in space.

Atlantis will spend two days in a lower orbit than that of the space station as her crew prepares the craft for a Sunday morning docking and eight days of docked operations.

This mission's prime payload is the Mini-Research Module 1, also known in Russia as Rassvet or 'dawn'. It will be attached to the station's Zarya module's earth-facing port, and will provide an extra docking port for future manned Soyuz TMA crafts and Progress M unmanned cargo vessels.

The module will be attached on the mission's fifth day with the station robotic arm.

A shuttle mission in September will deliver the final segment by a space shuttle; and a Russian rocket in December 2011 will deliver the final planned segment of the space station.

Once Atlantis returns back to earth on May 26, she will be prepared for a standby flight this December to assist Endeavour's final mission if an emergency rescue flight is needed.

If Atlantis is not required to launch on a rescue flight, NASA could decide next month to launch her on what will be the final space shuttle mission with a crew of four in June 2011.

Atlantis separates from her fuel tank on orbit. (NASA)

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