The shuttle Columbia and its multi-national crew of astronauts blasted off on time today from the Kennedy Space Center to begin a 16-day flight devoted to microgravity science, satellite-based studies of the sun and a spacewalk to prepare for the assembly of the International Space Station.
Commander Kevin Kregel, Pilot Steve Lindsey, Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla, Winston Scott and Takao Doi and Payload Specialist Leonid Kadenyuk lifted off at 1:46 p.m. Central time, the sixth time this year that a shuttle has begun its mission right on time. All eight flights this year launched on the day set in NASA’s Flight Readiness Review. Doi will become the first Japanese astronaut to walk in space Monday night when he conducts a six-hour excursion into Columbia’s payload bay with Scott. Kadenyuk is the first Ukrainian to fly in space.
Six minutes into the climb to orbit, Columbia’s computers commanded the orbiter to roll from an inverted position under its fuel tank to a "heads-up" position to provide early communications access to the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System. That will enable NASA to phase out its Bermuda tracking station to save costs to the shuttle program.
Later today, the astronauts will activate experiments associated with the United States Microgravity-4 payload in the cargo bay, which will gather data for more than two weeks on the effects of weightlessness on a number of materials. Chawla and Lindsey will also unfurl and checkout Columbia’s robot arm, which will be used tomorrow to deploy the SPARTAN science satellite for two days of solar science observations.
The astronauts will begin an eight-hour sleep period at 12:46 a.m. tomorrow morning and will be awakened at 8:46 a.m. to start SPARTAN pre-deploy operations.
Columbia is in an orbit about 150 nautical miles above the Earth, circling the planet every 90 minutes.
The next STS-87 status report will be issued at about 6 a.m. Central time Thursday.
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