STS-122 Atlantis Mission Takes Off

At approximately 2:47 p.m. EST the space shuttle “Atlantis” successfully lifted off the ground from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. About two months after the shuttle’s original launch date, after which liftoff was delayed a number of times, NASA experts were still uncertain whether Atlantis will finally be sent off to space today – this due to weather conditions that might have not fallen under the space agency’s strict flight rules, which include limits on cloud height, storms in the area and clouds that could produce lightning. According to the agency, such guidelines are critically important, especially in case the shuttle will be forced to make an emergency landing shortly after liftoff.

Unlike in previous launch attempts no technical malfunctions were reported, and NASA proceeded with the preparations towards the scheduled flight, citing a 40% chance that weather conditions will be appropriate for the launch one hour before the countdown hit the zero mark. However, as the launch time approached, it was becoming more and more clear that NASA will “give the go”. “We have a good system and we’re ready to go fly,” said launch director Doug Lyons. “Everything looks real good out there.”

Fortunately, NASA has concluded that the weather conditions allowed for a safe liftoff and Atlantis took off into space. The shuttle carries seven crew members, whose mission during the 11-day journey will be to attach the European Space Agency’s Columbus Laboratory to the International Space Station (ISS). The laboratory will significantly increase the station’s size, providing it with improved capabilities and serve as a base for future space science research. The Columbus lab has been under development at the European Space Agency for more than 22 years and it will be joining the U.S. Destiny lab, which has been in operation at the International Space Station (ISS) since 2001. 

Under the command of NASA astronaut Steve Frick, Atlantis’ crew will assist in the initial installation of the Columbus lab, dropping off one of its crew members at the station – a French Air Force general Leopold Eyharts, who will continue to work on the new laboratory and will reside at the station for nearly four months. He will be taking place of “Expedition 16” Flight Engineer Daniel Tani, who will be completing a four-month mission at the ISS. Other team members include the pilot Alan Poindexter, Mission Specialists Leland Melvin, Rex Walheim, Stanley Love and the European Space Agency’s Hans Schlegel. This is the first spaceflight for Poindexter, Love and Melvin. 

Throughout the day, crowds of well-wishers surrounded the nearby grounds, waiting for the liftoff. Only during the last few minutes of the countdown the access arm on the rotating service structure swung away from the shuttle and the “beanie cap” covering the top of the external tank lifted up and moved away, clearing way for the Atlantis. And the rest is breathtaking history. 

Columbus is the second laboratory to be added to the ISS and will be followed by Japan’s “Kibo” (meaning hope) laboratory, which is scheduled to leave Earth in three different shuttle missions – first of which is scheduled to be launched in March 2008. 

In 2007, TFOT has covered the “Discovery” space shuttle launch as well as NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Mission, which in late September 2007 set out on a decade long mission that will take it deep inside the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

You can read more about today’s launch at NASA’s official home page.