Beautiful Launch: STS-122


Spectacular shuttle launch from The Cape today:

Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew of seven astronauts launched on spectacular plumes of gold-tipped smoke today carrying Europe’s primary contribution to the International Space Station – the Columbus science laboratory.

The lab is filled with racks for experiments and research euipment and has fixtures on its exterior to also host research exposed to the vacuum of space. It represents the latest international addition to a facility already made of structures from the United States, Russia and Canada.

“It shows that there is a real partnership between communities,” NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said.

The launch was crucial for the European Space Agency because the Columbus lab represents a cutting edge research facility for Europe and the continent’s first manned spacecraft.

“Today we are opening a new chapter for ESA,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, the European Space Agency director general. “Just as Columbus discovered the New World, with Columbus, we are discovering a whole new world.”

The launch came seven years to the day after Atlantis carried NASA’s science laboratory named Destiny to the space station.

“It’s great to have two laboratories in space,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations.

Atlantis’ liftoff came despite concerns that a weather front would interfere. But those concerns did not materialize and the launch team sent Atlantis aloft at the appointed time.

“We did set ourselves up to be ready, to be prepared,” said Leroy Cain, chairman of the Mission Management Team.

The crew of Atlantis will now check out its systems and inspect the heat shield while chasing down the space station. It is to dock with the station Saturday. There will be three spacewalks during the flight so astronauts can attach the Columbus lab and connect its power and fluid lines.

The flight is to last 11 days and end with Atlantis returning to Kennedy Space Center.

Here’s the video: