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Atlantis blasts off from Florida, with pecan pie
The space shuttle Atlantis made a flawless launch through clear skies on Monday, with a new side-mounted camera that sent back spectacular views of the Kennedy Space Center and Florida coast as it receded from view.
Atlantis lifted off at 3:46 p.m. on a mission to add a new segment to the International Space Station.
The launch had been delayed more than six weeks. Repairs to a cracked fuel line accounted for most of the delay, but takeoff was again postponed last week when a hurricane threatened NASA's Mission Control center in Houston.
"Atlantis is ready for you," launch director Mike Leinbach told shuttle commander Jeffrey Ashby, a U.S. Navy captain, shortly before launch. "The weather is beautiful and you guys have been in Florida for far too long, so we wish you luck."
Replied Ashby, "We thank you for your hard work. Now it's our turn."
The launch was the first since NASA's entire shuttle fleet was grounded in June because of the cracked fuel lines.
The video from the camera mounted outside the shuttle's fuel tank was not everything NASA had promised. The images became cloudy about two minutes into the flight, shortly after the solid-fuel rocket boosters separated from the tank.
Atlantis carried a crew of six and a 15-tontruss segment to be installed on the station by spacewalking astronauts during the 11-day mission. The completed truss will eventually sport an acre of solar-power panels and several science modules owned by NASA's international partners.
Ashby's second-in-command is pilot Pamela Melroy, a U.S. Air Force colonel. The flight engineer is Sandra Magnus, a civilian scientist who will use a robotic arm on the station to move the truss segment from its berth in the shuttle to its new position on the station.
Spacewalkers Dave Wolf, a physician, and Piers Sellers, a British-born NASA eco-scientist, will twice journey outside the space station to install the truss.
The sixth member of the crew is Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin, who will spend much of his time in orbit working with Russian members of the long-duration crew on the station. The station is currently staffed by two Russians -- Valery Korzun and Sergei Treschev -- and American Peggy Whitson.
The shuttle crew is bringing them fresh fruit and a pecan pie.
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