Blast Off Atlantis
Space shuttle finally takes off for International Space Station
Space shuttle Atlantis with its crew of seven lifts off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday, February 7, 2008. (Photo: Jim Grossmann/NASA)
After two months of setbacks, Atlantis finally soared into space Thursday afternoon, bound for the International Space Station (ISS). The shuttle will deliver a $2 billion science lab, developed by the European Space Agency (ESA).
Two launches in December were canceled due to fuel-gauge problems. And predictions for stormy weather had NASA officials wondering whether Atlantis' third launch would also be scratched. But the rain and thunderstorms stayed clear of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the shuttle's seven-man crew lifted off at 2:45 pm without a hitch.
There were 300 Europeans on hand to witness the launch of the Columbus space lab—an event they had been awaiting for more than two decades.
"We're all as excited as heck,” said Alan Thirkette, Europe's space station program manager. "I've lost about [one pound] so far, and that's just been tears.”
Columbus is the ESA's main contribution to the ISS. It will join the U.S. lab, Destiny, which has been up and running for the past seven years. The Japanese lab, Kibo, or Hope, is scheduled to be launched at the beginning of March. Because of Kibo's enormous size, it will take three shuttle flights to get the Japanese lab to the space station.
Atlantis' commander, Stephen Frick, and his crew are due to arrive at the ISS on Saturday. They will start installing Columbus the following day. The entire mission will likely last 12 days.
"We‚re looking forward to doing our part to bring it (Columbus) up to the International Space Station and start its good work and many, many years of science,” said Frick before the launch.
Launch a Go
After a defective connector caused the fuel gauges to malfunction back in December, NASA repaired the broken part. At the time of liftoff, all four gauges in Atlantis' outside fuel tank were performing properly.
NASA hopes to complete six launches this year. The space agency must stick to a pretty rigid schedule if it expects to meet its 2010 deadline for finishing the ISS. Then NASA will turn its attention to returning humans to the moon.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Read today’s story and answer the following question.
Do you think working together on the International Space Station can improve relations between countries back on Earth? Why or why not?
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Karen Fanning is a contributing writer for Scholastic News Online.