With dawn's first light glimmering above, six American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center to pay a "home improvement" house call on the fledgling International Space Station.
Riding aboard the upgraded and refurbished space Shuttle Atlantis, Commander Jim Halsell, Pilot Scott Horowitz and Mission Specialists Mary Ellen Weber, Jeff Williams, Jim Voss, Susan Helms and Yury Usachev rocketed away from their Florida launch site at 5:11 a.m. Central time, a pre-dawn launch by Shuttle standards. Atlantis quickly rose into daylight as it raced up the Eastern seaboard in pursuit of the 76-foot long, 35-ton international station, which was flying over the Ukraine, southwest of Kiev.
The launch was Atlantis' first since September 1997. Atlantis recently underwent major modifications, including the introduction of a state-of-the-art, hi-tech glass cockpit filled with computer displays to replace the old cockpit dials and switches.
Atlantis launched on time after three delays last month caused by high winds at the launch site and at overseas emergency landing strips. Today, conditions were perfect. Atlantis is scheduled to link up to the space station at 11:31 p.m. Central time Saturday night (12:31 a.m. Eastern time Sunday morning).
Once on orbit, Atlantis' crew began to set up shuttle systems for the planned 10-day mission, preparing to open the ship's cargo bay doors, which will be followed by the activation of the double Spacehab module housed in the rear of the cargo bay, containing more than a ton of supplies the crew will transfer to the station.
The astronauts will begin their first eight-hour sleep period just five hours after liftoff, at 10:11 a.m. Central time, and will be awakened at 6:11 p.m. this evening to begin their first full day in orbit. Prior to the start of that sleep period, Halsell and Horowitz will fire Atlantis' maneuvering jets in the first of a series of maneuvers designed to put the shuttle on a precise course to the International Space Station.
After the first rendezvous maneuver, Atlantis will be circling the Earth in a slightly elliptical orbit of about 201 by 124 statute miles, inclined 51.6 degrees to either side of the equator.
The next STS-101 status report will be issued at around 7:00 p.m. Central time Friday unless developments warrant.
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