Spaceflight Now: Space Station/STS-98

Shuttle Atlantis thunders into space

Posted: February 7, 2001

Putting on a dramatic sunset sky show, the shuttle Atlantis blasted off and rocketed away after the international space station this evening, carrying a $1.4 billion module that will serve as the station's main laboratory and central control center.

Atlantis soars to orbit from pad 39A just after sunset. This dramatic view is from the Kennedy Space Center Press Site. Photo: Spaceflight Now
Once the Destiny module is attached to the station, control of critical station systems will shift from the Russian mission control center near Moscow to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Equally important, the Boeing-built lab will permit on-board crews to finally begin the long-term orbital research the station is being built to carry out.

"The lab is really the guts of the space station's research and command and control capabilities," astronaut Thomas Jones said in a NASA interview. "It becomes possible to do science and to make the science quality science because of the arrival of the lab.

"The potential that the lab provides is really a big step up, a quantum jump, for the space station's maturity as a research facility. We're really getting into the serious growth phase of the space station."

With commander Kenneth Cockrell and pilot Mark Polansky at the controls, Atlantis roared to life at 6:13:02 p.m. EST, minutes after sunset, and streaked away on a trajectory paralleling the East Coast of the United States. Launch was delayed one minute and 46 seconds to troubleshoot a possible electrical problem that turned out to be of no concern.

The weather in Florida was ideal, but launch was a question mark most of the day because of low clouds, high winds and rain at three emergency runways in Spain and Africa. At least one of the European sites must be available for use in case of a main engine failure midway through the climb to space.

But as the day wore on, a front moved through the Ben Guerir, Morocco, area and conditions improved enough to clear Atlantis for launch.

The international space station passed over the Kennedy Space Center about five minutes before Atlantis' liftoff, but it was not visible in the glare of the setting sun. It was flying over the north Atlantic Ocean east of Newfoundland as the shuttle took off.

"We've got some good news for you," astronaut Dan Burbank radioed station commander William Shepherd from Houston. "Atlantis and the STS-98 crew have taken up the chase. The launch was all nominal and they're on their way. They're about 3,200 miles behind you right now, but that's not going to be the case for very long, they'll be hot on your heels shortly."

"Well, in the immortal words of John Paul Jones, a stern chase is a long one," Shepherd replied before passing along congratulations to the launch team.

Flight controllers then beamed up videotape showing the shuttle's pyrotechnic launching.

Joining Cockrell, Polansky and Jones for the 102nd shuttle flight are flight engineer Marsha Ivins, the crew's robot arm operator, and Robert Curbeam.

If all goes well, Atlantis will dock with the space station Friday a few minutes before noon. Station commander William Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev will welcome their shuttle colleagues aboard about an hour and a half after docking.

The real work begins the next day during the first of three planned spacewalks by Jones and Curbeam when Ivins uses Atlantis' 50-foot-long robot arm to connect the 32,000-pound Destiny to the station.

The space station currently consists of three pressurized modules connected end-to-end: The Russian Zvezda command and living quarters module at one end; the Russian-built NASA-financed Zarya module in the middle; and the multi-hatch U.S. Unity module at the other end.

Atlantis will dock with a pressurized tunnel, or mating adapter, attached to Unity's Earth-facing, or nadir, hatch. The huge P6 solar array and the Z1 structural truss are attached to Unity's zenith port. The module's two side ports are vacant.

The laboratory will be connected to Unity's forward hatch, a port currently occupied by another pressurized mating adapter, PMA-2.

Ivins will use the shuttle's robot arm to remove PMA-2 so Jones can lock it down on the side of the Z1 truss.

Ivins then will lift Destiny out of Atlantis' cargo bay, flip it 180 degrees and mount it on Unity's end hatch. Motor-driven bolts in the hatch's common berthing mechanism will firmly lock the two modules together.

With the lab in place, Jones and Curbeam will begin work to hook up nine electrical cables and four ammonia coolant lines running to radiators on the station's main solar array truss. Engineers in Houston then will begin powering up the lab's computer system.

"There's about a four-hour window to accomplish this lab activation," said station flight director Andrew Algate. "When we start turning on the avionics, they require cooling. But to turn the cooling system on, we need to have the avionics on.

"But we estimate the procedure here will only take about an hour and a half so we have a fair window here to get the job done."

The next day, hatches between Unity and Destiny will be opened for the first time and the astronauts will begin activating Destiny's myriad systems.

The lab can accommodate two dozen removable racks that can house experiment hardware, life support systems or other equipment. Because of launch weight limitations, Destiny was launched with just five racks in place.

One of them contains critical air revitalization equipment capable of scrubbing carbon dioxide from the station's air supply and boosting oxygen content as required. One of the first items on the agenda during lab activation is to move the ARS rack from its launch location to its permanent mounting point in the lab's "floor."

The lab was launched with 13 computers installed (another will be added later), including machines that will provide central command and control functions. And that includes the ability to finally begin using four massive gyroscopes in the Z1 truss to control the spacecraft's orientation in space.

Orientation, or attitude, control currently is provided by rockets on the Russian command module. By switching to gyro control, station crews can conserve valuable propellant and avoid jarring rocket firings that would disturb sensitive microgravity experiments.

The switch to gyro stabilization is a major step in the transition from Russian mission control leadership of the station project to NASA control, a long-awaited milestone in the facility's development.

But first, the astronauts and ground controllers must get Destiny's computers working and communicating with their Russian counterparts in the Zvezda module.

"The lab brings up two computers that have a substantial amount of software in them and those computers interface with the Russian computers, both the command and control computer and the terminal computers," said Bill Gerstenmaier, deputy station program manager.

"So there are essentially four computers talking to each other. You've heard us talking about the 'four box' testing. That's where we did some testing in Moscow and some testing here in the states to look at how those four computers will interact and operate with each other.

"On this flight, we're also going to update the (Zvezda) service module software in the Russian computers," he said. "It's currently in version four, we're going to step up to version five of that software. We're going to do that as part of this software upgrade of bringing the lab on board."

Assuming computer activation and integration goes smoothly, guidance and navigation computers in the Destiny module will be brought on line, allowing flight controllers to begin operating the control moment gyroscopes.

"We've really prepared as much as we can," Gerstenmaier said. "But once we get on orbit and you have the actual sensors out there and the actual hardware and software running together, you may get some surprises. But this is a big, big step for us in terms of software."

Two more spacewalks by Jones and Curbeam are planned next Monday and Wednesday to complete the lab's external outfitting and to make preparations for upcoming assembly flights.

If all goes well, Atlantis will undock from the space station Feb. 16 and return to Earth on Feb. 18.

Video vault
Atlantis blasts away from Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A at sunset on February 7 bound for the international space station as seen on NASA TV.
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A powerful tracking camera provides this spectacular footage of space shuttle Atlantis' launch through separation of the twin solid rocket boosters.
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A camera positioned in front of the launch pad 39A shows Atlantis' main engines and solid rocket boosters igniting to propel the space shuttle to orbit.
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From atop Kennedy Space Center's 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building, this dramatic view shows Atlantis launching with a full moon in the background.
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Take a flying tour around the international space station as it looks before Atlantis' visit and after when the Destiny laboratory is added.
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NASA animation shows space shuttle Atlantis' approach and docking to the international space station. Lead Flight Director Bob Castle narrates.
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Animation shows the PMA No. 2 docking port being removed from the station's Unity node by Atlantis' robot arm and temporarily stored on the Z1 truss.
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The Destiny lab module is lifted out of Atlantis' payload bay by the robot arm, flipped 180 degrees end-over-end, and connected to the station as shown in animation.
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Kerri Knotts, the STS-98 lead EVA officer, provides a detailed preview of the work to be performed during the mission's first spacewalk with complete animation.
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After temporary storage on the Z1 truss, PMA No. 2 is mounted to the Destiny module's back end for use by docking space shuttles in the future.
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Watch a complete preview of the mission's second spacewalk with NASA animation and narration by Kerri Knotts, the STS-98 lead EVA officer.
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NASA animation gives a full preview of the mission's third spacewalk along with narration by Kerri Knotts, the STS-98 lead EVA officer.
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Atlantis undocks from the international space station and performs a one-lap "fly-around" maneuver as shown in NASA animation.
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