Columbia lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center this morning on the first shuttle mission of the year, carrying the first Israeli astronaut into orbit along with six crewmates on a marathon international scientific research flight.
Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Mission Specialists Dave Brown, Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark, Payload Commander Mike Anderson and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon of the Israel Space Agency blasted off at 9:39 a.m. CST from Launch Pad 39-A. Less than nine minutes later, Columbia settled into an orbit inclined 39 degrees to the equator.
The seven astronauts will divide their duties into two teams working 12-hour shifts to conduct round-the-clock science. Aboard Columbia more than 80 experiments dealing with astronaut health and safety, advanced tehnology development and Earth and space sciences.
Husband, Chawla, Clark and Ramon comprise the Red team which will work in the pre-dawn and daytime hours, while McCool, Brown and Anderson make up the Blue team, working the evening and overnight hours.
Once in orbit, the crewmembers will begin to unstow gear and prepared for the opening of Columbia's payload bay doors, before activating hardware and experiments in a double Spacehab research module housed in the shuttle's cargo bay, which contains the lion's share of the mission's science. Other experiments housed in the cargo bay also will be activated, along with a special pallet of cryogenic fuel tanks at the rear of the cargo bay which will provide Columbia and its experiments sufficient electrical power for the duration of the flight.
Having shifted their sleep schedule to accommodate the dual-shift operations, McCool, Brown and Anderson will begin an abbreviated six-hour sleep period at 1:39 p.m. CST and will be awakened at 7:39 p.m. while Red team counterparts continue the early stages of experiment activation. Husband, Chawla, Clark and Ramon will begin an eight-hour sleep period at 8:39 p.m. and will be awakened Friday at 4:39 a.m. to handover work from the Blue team which will be continuing the initial phase of scientific studies overnight.
As Columbia was launched, the Expedition 6 crew aboard the International Space Station was orbiting over the northern Pacific Ocean south of the Aleutian island chain. Commander Ken Bowersox, Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin and NASA ISS Science Officer Don Pettit are in their 54th day in space, their 52nd day on board the station.
The next STS-107 mission status report will be issued this evening, or earlier if events warrant.
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