Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NASA launches space shuttle Atlantis

Updated on : Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NEW YORK: The shuttle Atlantis has blasted off carrying vital supplies and spare parts for the International Space Station to push its life past the 2010 retirement of the aging shuttle fleet.
Atlantis launched at 2.28pm on Monday (0628 AEDT Tuesday) from the Kennedy Space Centre near Florida's Cape Canaveral carrying six astronauts and some 12 tonnes of gyroscopes, ammonia tanks and other equipment.

"A perfect launch, right on time," said a NASA spokesman after the shuttle reached orbit about eight minutes into its flight, hurtling at a speed of more than 24,000km/ph, NASA said.

Moment before the lift-off, launch director Mike Leinback wished the crew godspeed, declaring: "All the vehicle systems are outstanding today, the weather is near perfect for a good lift-off today."

Space agency officials said the mission was crucial as just five more shuttle launches remain before the planned September 2010 retirement of the fleet and the spare parts will add years to the space station's life.

"You'll see this theme in some of the flights that are going to come after ours as well," said mission director Brian Smith. "This flight is all about spares, basically, we're getting them up there while we still can."

Atlantis reached its orbit in eight and-a-half minutes 225km above earth. It was due to dock with the ISS at 1653 GMT on Wednesday (0353 AEDT Thursday).

Led by Marine Corps Colonel Charlie Hobaugh, the all-male crew arrived on Thursday at Kennedy Space Centre from Houston, Texas, where the astronauts are based.

The 11-day space outing, the fifth and final shuttle mission for 2009, is scheduled to include three space walks to store hardware on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS).

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