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Successful Launch for Space Shuttle Atlantis

February 7, 2008

Cheers and shouts could be heard throughout the space center as Atlantis, carrying the STS-122 crew and Columbus Laboratory, roared off the launch pad into the mid-afternoon sky to begin the 24th mission to the International Space Station.

The ship lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 1:45 p.m. CST, roaring away ahead of stormy weather whose approach threatened to delay the 11-day mission earlier in the day.

There were no problems with the erratic fuel gauges that thwarted two launch attempts in early December.

“We have a good system, and we are ready to fly,” said NASA launch director Doug Lyons as the liftoff neared.

“Best of luck up there,” Lyons told the Atlantis astronauts as their liftoff neared.

“We are looking forward to a great flight,” said Atlantis commander Steve Frick.

The launch placed the shuttle on course to dock with the 220-mile-high space station on Saturday, just before noon. Two of the astronauts will embark on a spacewalk Sunday to assist as the school-bus-sized Columbus lab module is hoisted out of the shuttle’s cargo bay with a robot arm and attached to the space station.

Frick’s crew includes pilot Alan Poindexter, robot arm operator Leland Melvin, spacewalkers Rex Walheim, Stan Love and European Space Agency astronaut Hans Schlegel of Germany. Leopold Eyharts, another European Space Agency astronaut from France, will remain aboard the station until late March, commissioning the new European lab.

Eyharts will replace American Dan Tani, who moved aboard the station in October. Tani returns to Earth aboard Atlantis.

The fliers will spend Friday examining the shuttle’s heat shield for possible damage from launch debris. Using the shutte’s camera and laser-tipped robot arm, they will survey the wing leading edges and the nose of the ship.

A cold front that marched through the southeastern United States earlier this week spawning deadly tornadoes took aim at Florida today, triggering rain showers, low clouds and high winds.

The front slowed just enough for Atlantis to depart, said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Barrett, a meteorologist. NASA’s mission management gave the final approval after watching a thunderstorm veer away from the shuttleport.

The four fuel gauges are part of a safety system that is designed to shut off the shuttle’s three rocket engines if there was a fuel leak. Computer commands triggered by the gauges stop the engines from running dry and exploding.

The December delay prompted a round of troubleshooting that placed the source of the problem in a fuel tank electrical connector.

Engineers settled on a repair strategy that included soldering narrow electrical connectors to overcome the interruption of current flow that caused the gauge problem.

Early today, the gauges were immersed in hydrogen as the shuttle’s fuel tank was filled with propellents.

The gauges functioned flawlessly throughout the final hours of the countdown and Atlantis’ climb to orbit.

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