Shuttle Atlantis Begins 11-Day Mission to Space Station

By Cheryl Pellerin
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – After a nearly three-month delay caused by hail damage and repairs to the external fuel tank, space shuttle Atlantis roared into a deep-blue Florida sky June 8 on the program’s 21st mission to the International Space Station.

“Three, two, one,” capsule communicator Tony Antonelli announced from mission control, “and liftoff of space shuttle Atlantis, to assemble the framework for the science laboratories of tomorrow!”

Commanding the mission is Marine Colonel Rick Sturckow, with Air Force Colonel Lee Archambault as pilot. Crew mission specialists are Patrick Forrester, James Reilly, Steven Swanson and John Olivas.

Flight engineer Clayton Anderson will replace Expedition 15 Flight Engineer Sunita Williams on the station, and Williams will return to Earth aboard Atlantis.

“This is the first step in a really challenging mission,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for space operations. “We’ve got plenty of challenges in front of us during this mission and plenty of challenges throughout the rest of this year, but what a great way to start the year and what a great way to start this mission.”


The crew is delivering two starboard truss segments, batteries and another pair of solar arrays to the space station. During the 11-day mission and three spacewalks, the crew will work with flight controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas to install a 17-ton segment on the station's girder-like truss and deploy a set of solar arrays.

The power added by the solar arrays, said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for space operations, during a recent press briefing, is critical to ensure backup power for the station crew and for the October arrival of Harmony Node 2. (See related article.)

Node 2 will increase station living and work space, provide a passageway between three science experiment facilities on the station, and provide connecting ports for logistics modules, the Japanese H II transfer vehicle and a pressurized mating adapter for vehicles docking with space shuttle.

The node, Gerstenmaier added, also will be the connecting point for the European Columbus Laboratory in December and the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) in January or February 2008.

The solar panels are “necessary to provide power to the Node module," he said, "which then provides power to the Columbus and JEM modules. So it's absolutely critical to what we're doing.”


Atlantis also is carrying a metal cargo tag from the Jamestown colony in Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in North America. The tag is about 400 years old and bears the words "Yames Towne."

It is being taken into space to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown's settlement in 1607. (See related article.)

"We found the tag at the bottom of a well during a dig at the James Fort," said William Kelso, director of archaeology at Historic Jamestowne for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. "It appears to be a discarded shipping tag from a crate or trunk that arrived from England around 1611. The artifact clearly marks Jamestown as a destination – our nation's first address."

NASA teamed with Jamestown 2007 to promote the spirit of exploration then, now and in the future.

When the 2.54-centimeter artifact lands back on Earth, it will have logged more than 4 million miles spanning four centuries, traveling from England to Jamestown, then to and from the space station.


NASA managers officially have targeted September 10 for the launch of the fifth and final space shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. During the 11-day flight, Atlantis' seven astronauts will repair and improve the observatory's capabilities through 2013.

The Hubble Space Telescope is an international cooperative project between NASA and the European Space Agency.

Mission planners have been working since October 2006, when the flight was announced, to determine the best time in the shuttle manifest to repair the space telescope and minimize the impact on space station assembly.

NASA also will support a potential rescue flight during the Hubble mission. If such a flight is needed, space shuttle Endeavour will be available to launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Shuttle missions beyond the Hubble flight still are being assessed. Shuttle and station program officials will continue to consider options for the rest of the shuttle flights to complete construction of the space station by 2010, when the fleet – comprising Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavor - will be retired.

Meanwhile, work continues to ready space shuttle Endeavour for mission STS-118, scheduled for launch in early August.

More information about the Hubble Space Telescope and the STS-117 crew and mission  is available on the NASA Web site.

For more information on the U.S. space program, see.

Science and Technology.