Space shuttle Atlantis roared away from the launch pad today in an apparently flawless launch, having endured many days of technical and weather-related delays, and a three-year mission postponement brought about by the disastrous loss of her sister ship, Columbia.
Eight and a half minutes after liftoff, Atlantis and her crew of six astronauts safely reached orbit, beginning a two-day journey to rendezvous with the International Space Station. The shuttle is carrying a major new station component, the P3/P4 truss and solar array wing. Atlantis’ flight restarts the space station assembly sequence, which has been on hold since the loss on re-entry of Columbia in February 2003.
The new component, which will be installed with a series of three spacewalks over the next 10 days, will almost double the International Space Station’s power generation capability, and pave the way for further assembly flights, the next of which is scheduled for December.