- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2002

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) Atlantis blasted off on the first shuttle flight in four months yesterday, with a side-mounted video camera showing the coastline and the brilliant blue ocean receding fast in the distance as the shuttle climbed toward orbit.

The shuttle rose from its seaside pad at 3:46 p.m. under tight security, carrying six astronauts and a 14-ton girder that will be installed on the International Space Station later this week.

It marked the first shuttle launch since early June. A long and frustrating delay was caused by cracked fuel lines that grounded the entire fleet.

The launch also was the debut of the "shuttlecam," a color video camera mounted near the top of Atlantis' external fuel tank. The camera beamed down live images as the shuttle soared over the Atlantic.

Mission Control told Atlantis' crew that the first two minutes of footage were "nothing short of spectacular." But the camera picked up debris when the shuttle's rocket boosters dropped away, and the rest of the pictures were foggy.

Hurricane Lili added to National Aeronautics and Space Administration's woes last week, with the first shutdown of Mission Control and a five-day launch postponement.

Earlier in the day, engineers managed to work around a heater problem in a water-drainage line aboard Atlantis. The trouble cropped up Sunday in one of three lines used to discharge water produced by Atlantis' electricity-producing fuel cells.

Although it was raining and lightning advisories were in effect as the astronauts headed to the pad early in the afternoon, the sky quickly cleared.

"Atlantis is ready for you," launch director Mike Leinbach told the astronauts just before liftoff. "The weather is beautiful, and you guys have been in Florida far too long. So we wish you luck."

The camera showed the billowing plume of rocket exhaust moments after liftoff, and then the coastline and foamy white waves, then the cape. TV viewers could make out Atlantis separating from its empty fuel tank eight minutes into the flight.

During their week at the space station, Atlantis' astronauts will conduct three spacewalks to hook up the $390 million girder. It measures 45 feet long and 15 feet wide and is crammed with wiring, plumbing, three radiators and a railroad cart.


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