Endeavours five astronauts blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center on the 101st mission in space shuttle history tonight to deliver the first set of U.S. solar arrays that will significantly increase the power generation capabilities of the International Space Station.
Commander Brent Jett, Pilot Mike Bloomfield and Mission Specialists Joe Tanner, Marc Garneau and Carlos Noriega rocketed away from Launch Pad 39-B at 9:06 p.m. Central time, lighting up the central Florida skies as they began their pursuit of the international complex.
At the time of launch, the three Expedition One crew members aboard the ISS were asleep with the facility passing over the southeast portion of the Indian Ocean, 7,500 nautical miles ahead of Endeavour. They are scheduled to be awakened at 12:06 a.m. on Friday with the main focus of their workday being the undocking of the Progress supply vehicle at 10:20 a.m. CST. The Progress will be placed in a parking orbit some 2500 kilometers from the ISS during the STS-97 mission. Mission managers will be discussing whether or not to redock the Progress to the ISS late in December over the next several weeks.
Less than nine minutes after liftoff, Endeavours astronauts went to work to prepare the shuttles systems for their planned 11-day mission. The first major task on the flight plan was to open Endeavours cargo bay doors prior to receiving a go for orbital operations from Ascent Flight Director Wayne Hale. The astronauts are expected to set up computers and flight deck gear before beginning an eight-hour sleep period at 2:06 a.m. Central time. The crew will be awakened at 10:06 a.m. Friday morning to begin its first full day in space.
With this evenings successful launch behind them, Endeavours astronauts will turn their attention to their chase of the International Space Station, performing several firings of the ships jet thrusters over the next two days to set up a docking with the outpost on Saturday just before 2 p.m. Central time. Over the ensuing week, the crew will perform three space walks as they install the 90-foot high, 240-foot wide solar array structure.
The next mission status report will be issued at 11 a.m. on Friday.
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