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Space shuttle Atlantis launches into orbit after long struggle

By Carpenter S. Newton     Jun 8, 2007 in Science
Mother nature may have taken shots in February, but Atlantis evened the score today with a flawless launch, sailing into orbit on its 11-day mission to the International Space Station.
Carpenter Newton reporting for Digital Journal –– The saying goes “good things are worth waiting for,” and it couldn’t be more true for space shuttle Atlantis and her crew.
After being delayed nearly three months because of a hail damaged external fuel tank, Friday’s 7:38 p.m. launch of the orbiter went off with only minor hitches.
Fueling of the once-damaged tank began on-time at 9:50 a.m. It wasn’t until hours later during the final inspection of the shuttle did a problem arise. Inspectors found a hanging pipe bracket that was thought to pose an issue for launch, but after further review declared it safe.
The only other issue arose briefly when both Transoceanic Abort Landing sites in France and Spain were flagged ‘no go’ due to weather constraints. With thirty minutes until launch, the France site went back to green and Atlantis was given a thumbs-up in final readiness polling.
Shortly before entering terminal countdown, Launch Director Mike Leinbach wished the crew of seven “Goodluck and Godspeed.”
Atlantis clears the tower.  Photo:  NASA
Atlantis clears the tower. Photo: NASA
At 7:38:04 p.m., exactly on time, Atlantis thundered to life and smoothly flew into orbit. NASA TV made the call: “...3...2...1... Liftoff of space shuttle Atlantis to assemble the framework for the science laboratories of tomorrow!”
During the scheduled 11-day mission, STS-117 will deliver and install a new truss segment to the International Space Station. Also, one solar array panel will be unfolded while another will be folded.
Astronaut Sunita Williams, who has been living aboard the ISS since December of 2006, will be replaced by Clayton Anderson.
At the post-launch press conference, NASA officials were booming with happiness at how smooth the liftoff went.
“It was a beautiful launch. I’ve forgotten how pretty they were. It’s a beautiful sight to see such a complex machine like this fly,” said Launch Director Mike Leinbach. “The launch was nominal. There were a couple of issues, but nothing major. The weather folks predicted exactly what turned out.”
Wayne Hale, manager of the space shuttle program, said of the external fuel tank that had thousands of repairs: “The tank performed in an outstanding and magnificent way.”
The STS-117 crew is slated to dock with the International Space Station on Sunday afternoon. Less than two hours in orbit, mission control had already ordered Atlantis’ payload bay doors open and went ‘go’ for orbit operations.
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