The shuttle Endeavour and its seven astronauts streaked into orbit on time tonight, lighting up the Florida skies at 8:48 p.m. Central time to kick off the first shuttle mission of the year.
Commander Terry Wilcutt, Pilot Joe Edwards and Mission Specialists Jim Reilly, Mike Anderson, Bonnie Dunbar, Salizhan Sharipov and Andy Thomas settled into orbit less than nine minutes later, on course to rendezvous with and dock to the Russian Mir Space Station Saturday afternoon.
The Mir was sailing over the North Atlantic Ocean at the time of Endeavour’s launch, more than 3800 nautical miles in front of the shuttle. Mir 24 Commander Anatoly Solovyev, Flight Engineer Pavel Vinogradov and U.S. astronaut David Wolf were asleep at the time of launch. A series of rendezvous maneuvers over the next two days will enable Endeavour to catch up with the Mir for the eighth Shuttle docking with the Russian outpost. Thomas will switch places with Wolf on Sunday to become the seventh and final American to live and work on the Mir. Wolf will return to Earth with his STS-89 crewmates on Jan. 31 while Thomas will remain in orbit until early June when he returns to Earth on STS-91, the final scheduled shuttle docking mission to the Mir.
After Endeavour’s astronauts open their ship’s cargo bay doors, they will begin to activate systems and conduct a partial activation of the double Spacehab module in the rear of the payload bay in which science experiments and supplies for the Mir are housed. The astronauts are scheduled to begin an eight-hour sleep period at 1:48 a.m. Friday morning and will be awakened by Mission Control at 9:48 a.m. to begin their first full day in space.
Endeavour is orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes at an altitude of about 210 nautical miles with all systems in good shape.
The next STS-89 status report will be issued at 6 a.m. Central time Friday.
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