Space shuttle Atlantis blasts off

Nasa shuttle carrying seven astronauts lifts off for an 11-day trip.

    Nasa plans at least 13 more shuttle missions to finish the $100bn International Space Station [Reuters]

    Three spacewalks, each lasting six-and-a-half hours, are planned on the fourth, sixth and eighth days of the mission, which is the 21st shuttle mission to the ISS.

     

    Mike Leinbach, shuttle launch director, told the crews shortly before lift-off: "It took us a little while to get to this point, but the ship's in great shape.

     

    "It's beautiful weather for you out there, so good luck and Godspeed."

     

    Nasa plans at least 13 more shuttle missions to finish the $100bn station by 2010, when the US space agency retires its three-shuttle fleet.

     

    Delayed departure

     

    In March, a freak hail storm damaged the shuttle's massive external fuel tank as the orbiter stood on its Florida launch pad, forcing Nasa to delay the mission for three months.

     

    However the weather on Friday was not a problem, even though the area frequently sees afternoon thunderstorms.

     

    The Atlantis mission is led by Commander Frederick Sturckow, 45, a marine colonel, who will be joined in the cockpit by co-pilot Lee Archambault, 46, an air force colonel.

     

    The crew includes mission specialists James Reilly, 53, Patrick Forrester, 50, Steven Swanson, 46, and John Olivas, 42.

     

    The seventh passenger, Clayton Anderson, 48, will stay behind at the ISS for a four-month mission while Atlantis brings back to Earth flight engineer Sunita Williams, who has been working at the space station since December.

     

    The Atlantis mission is the fifth shuttle trip since the Columbia tragedy of February 2003, when the shuttle disintegrated as it re-entered the atmosphere, killing its seven astronauts.

    SOURCE: Agencies


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Survivor stories from Super Typhoon Haiyan

    Survivor stories from Super Typhoon Haiyan

    The Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm ever to make landfall. Five years on, we revisit this story.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    We Are Still Here: A Story from Native Alaska

    We Are Still Here: A Story from Native Alaska

    From Qatar to Alaska, a personal journey exploring what it means to belong when your culture is endangered.