Spaceflight Now: STS-101 Mission Report

Atlantis launch puts on spectacular dawn show
Posted: May 19, 2000

Space shuttle Atlantis lifts off in a brilliant burst of fire and smoke. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
Grounded three times last month by bad weather and once by conflicts with another rocket, the shuttle Atlantis's crew finally blasted off today on a high-priority mission to repair the international space station.

Under a predawn sky, the black-and-white spaceplane vaulted away from launch pad 39A on time at 6:11:10 a.m. EDT (1011:10 GMT), putting on a spectacular show for local residents and tourists lining roads and beaches around the space center. If all goes well, the shuttle will dock with the space station early Sunday.

The only technical issue discussed during ascent was a pressure reading from the shuttle's left-side orbital maneuvering system rocket pod. The crew was told no action was required and this does not appear to be a significant issue.

Atlantis made the climb to space with what amounts to a new cockpit, the result of a major upgrade to replace the orbiter's outdated 1970s-vintage instruments with state-of-the-art flat panel displays. The new displays operate in full color using computer simulations of the old instruments that are being replaced.

NASA is spending $220 million to upgrade all four of its space shuttles with the new displays and to upgrade simulators and other training systems at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. It cost about $9 million to upgrade Atlantis.

The idea is to improve flight safety by making critical data more easily accessible. NASA eventually plans to add additional computer equipment to change the way diagnostic data is displayed on the new screens. The equipment presumably worked as advertised during Atlantis's climb to orbit today.

Atlantis' crew of seven depart for launch pad 39A. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
Today's launch came just moments before Earth's rotation carried the launch pad into the plane of the international space station's orbit. Over the next two days, shuttle commander James Halsell and pilot Scott Horowitz will fire Atlantis's maneuvering jets in a carefully choreographed sequence to null out any difference in orbital planes, bringing the two spacecraft together Sunday at 12:31 a.m. EDT (0431 GMT) as they pass above a Russian ground station.

But the crew will not actually enter the station until Monday evening, after a spacewalk Sunday night by James Voss and Jeffrey Williams. During a six-and-a-half-hour excursion, Voss and Williams plan to mount a Russian cargo crane on the station's hull, replace a faulty NASA antenna and lock down a U.S. cargo boom that appears to be loose. Hatches between the two spacecraft will be opened at 8:12 p.m. EDT Monday (0012 GMT Tuesday).

You can follow the flight of Atlantis in Spaceflight Now's Mission Status Center. We will provide continuous play-by-play reports throughout the entire 10-day shuttle flight.

About the author
William Harwood has covered the U.S. space program for more than a decade. He is a consultant for CBS News and writes The Washington Post and Space News. He maintains a space website for CBS News.

Video vault
Space shuttle Atlantis blasts off at sunrise on May 19 on a 10-day repair mission to the International Space Station.
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A tracking camera positioned in front of launch pad 39A gives this dramatic view of shuttle Atlantis lifting off.
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Atlantis' twin solid rocket boosters are separted just over two minutes into flight to fall into the Atlantic Ocean.
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The seven-member crew of space shuttle Atlantis leave their quarters on May 19 for the launch pad.
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The sun sets on launch complex 39A and the rotating service structure is pulled away from the shuttle. One hour is compressed into seconds in this time lapsed video.
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NASA animation with narration shows Atlantis approaching and docking to the International Space Station and later separating for return to Earth.
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STS-101 Lead Flight Director Phil Engelauf describes the goals and objectives of Atlantis' mission to the International Space Station.
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Pre-launch briefing
STS-101 index - See a listing off all our STS-101 stories and coverage.

Mission preview - A special report package on Atlantis' repair mission and its astronauts.

Meet the crew - Get to know the seven astronauts that will fly aboard shuttle Atlantis.

Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.