KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--The space shuttle Atlantis roared to life and raced into orbit Monday on a critical mission to deliver 15 tons of equipment and spare parts to the International Space Station, gear needed to protect against failures after the shuttle fleet is retired next year.
The shuttle's three hydrogen-fueled main engines fired up at 120-millisecond intervals and six seconds later, after computers verified the powerplants were operating normally, Atlantis' twin solid-fuel boosters ignited with a flash at 2:28 p.m. EST, instantly pushing the orbiter skyward.
As commander Charles Hobaugh and pilot Barry "Butch" Wilmore monitored the computer-controlled ascent, Atlantis wheeled about its vertical axis and arced away to the northeast, into the plane of the space station's orbit in the first step of a complex two-day rendezvous.
The shuttle's boosters operated normally, separating from Atlantis' external fuel tank as planned two minutes and four seconds after liftoff, and the spaceplane continued toward its planned preliminary orbit on the power of its three main engines.
A television camera mounted on the side of Atlantis' external tank provided spectacular views as the shuttle thundered toward space, showing the Florida coastline and scattered clouds dropping away below as the ship accelerated toward space.… Read more