Defying a bleak weather forecast, space shuttle Atlantis rocketed into space on Thursday, February 7, on its way to the International Space Station with a new science laboratory. The STS-122 mission had been delayed by a faulty fuel sensor, and was originally scheduled to launch last December. But today there were no problems with the sensor during fueling and the shuttle lifted off flawlessly at 2:45 p.m. EST. On board is a seven member crew and the European Space Agency’s $1.9 billion Columbus science module, Europe’s main contribution to the ISS. Atlantis will rendezvous with the station on Saturday, Feb. 9. The launch came seven years to the day after Atlantis carried NASA’ science laboratory named Destiny to the space station.
“It was a pretty clean launch,” astronaut Jim Dutton radioed the shuttle crew from mission control following the launch. “We did see, at about MET 2:13 (two minutes and 13 seconds after launch) a few piece of debris, they think at least three, that came off inboard of the LO2 (liquid oxygen) feedline just aft of the starboard bipod leg. The debris assessment team indicated they didn’t identify an impact at the time and it’s obviously under evaluation.”
The crew of Atlantis will now check out its systems and inspect the heat shield while chasing down the space station. There will be three spacewalks during the flight so astronauts can attach the Columbus lab and connect its power and fluid lines.
Atlantis’ liftoff came despite concerns that a weather front would interfere with the launch. But the weather cooperated for an on-time launch.
Installing Columbus, named after the 15th-century Italian explorer, is the main task for the 121st space shuttle mission.
“Columbus has discovered a new world, and I think that with Columbus we are discovering a totally new world,” Jean Jacques Dordain, ESA’s director general, said after the launch.
Atlantis’ seven-member crew includes two Europeans, Germany’s Hans Schlegel and France’s Leopold Eyharts. US astronauts are Commander Steven Frick, pilot Alan Poindexter, and mission specialists Leland Melvin, Rex Walheim, and Stanley Love.
“It’s great to have two laboratories in space,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASAâ€™s associate administrator for space operations.
The mission is scheduled to last 11 days.
Original News Source: NASA Press Release