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Special Event

Space Shuttle Atlantis Embarks on Mission to Outfit Space Station

Aired September 8, 2000 - 8:45 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We are just seconds away from the liftoff of the shuttle Atlantis.

And we'd like to welcome our international viewers and bring you to Miles O'Brien.

How's it looking, Miles?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Carol, T minus 37 seconds and counting. That means right now that the onboard computers of the space shuttle are controlling this launch.

Let's listen in to NASA's Bruce Buckingham.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

BRUCE BUCKINGHAM, PUBLIC AFFAIRS, NASA/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER: ... onboard computers have primary control of all the vehicle's critical functions.

T minus 20 seconds. T minus 15 seconds, 11, 10, nine, eight -- we have a go for main engine start -- four, three, two, one -- we have booster ignition and liftoff for the space shuttle Atlantis, opening the door to a permanent human presence in space.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger, roll.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houston now controlling the flight of Atlantis, Atlantis completing its roll, placing the shuttle in a heads-down, wings-level position for the eight-and-a-half-minute ride to orbit.

Twenty-seven seconds into the flight, Atlantis's three liquid fuel main engines now throttling back in a three-step (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to 72 percent rate of performance. That will reduce the stress on the shuttle as it breaks through the sound barrier.

Everything looking very good for Atlantis. Almost one minute into the flight, the main engines now beginning to rev up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go ahead throttle up.

CMDR. TERRENCE WILCUTT, NASA: Copy, Houston. We're going throttle-up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Throttle-up call acknowledged by Commander Terry Wilcutt aboard Atlantis. Wilcutt joined on the flight deck by pilot Scott Altman, flight engineer Rick Mastracchio and mission specialist Ed Lu. Down on the mid-deck, mission specialists Dan Burbank, Yuri Malenchenko and Boris Morukov representing the Russian Aviation and Space Agency.

O'BRIEN: So far so good on the ascent of the space shuttle Atlantis, on this its 22nd mission, the 99th flight of space shuttle history.

You saw that moment where the shuttle goes through its so-called maximum dynamic pressure, where the throttles are deliberate retarded, brought back as it breaks through the sound barrier. Then as it gets higher and lighter and the atmosphere gets thinner, they start putting on the gas.

We should being seeing just about any minute now the separation of the solid rocket boosters. The solid rocket boosters do about 75 percent of the work of getting the shuttle into orbit.

There you see them separating there, the explosive charges on the vehicle sending them off like floating, lit cigarettes as they head back down. They will drop into the ocean about 140 miles off the coast and be recovered by a NASA vessel that will return them, refurbish them. And eventually they'll be stacked up and used again with new solid propellant in it.

The ascent continues on the space shuttle's main engines -- three main engines on the space shuttle. That orange tank which is attached to the shuttle remains on it until those engines burn out at about eight minutes and 29 seconds into the ascent, at which point the engines shut off, the crew unbuckles its seat belts, and things start floating around, including themselves -- Carol.

LIN: Miles, how long is it going to take for them to get to the space station?

O'BRIEN: They've got about three days to go. They will dock in the wee hours Eastern time Sunday morning. And they will conduct some pressure checks on the space station to make sure everything is ship- shape, so to speak.

But before they go in and start putting in some two tons of gear for the permanent crew, they will conduct a six-hour space walk on the outside to connect some power cables and attach an antenna. So they'll be docked, but they won't be inside until about 24 hours later.

LIN: This has been described not only like building a house, but really putting together a home. What do they mean by that?

O'BRIEN: Well, the problem is when you launch anything, weight is at a premium. And when the Russians launched this critical piece of the space station, the so-called service module, in July, it's a very big piece and so it had to be sort of stripped down. It's like sending a house into orbit with just the studs done or maybe the sheet rock, but no appliances, no food, no cabinetry. They're bringing all that stuff right now, including the toilet, which is an additional amount of weight which they could not afford to launch up there.

This is a long, ongoing process that will take some time to sort of outfit the space station. As a matter of fact, the first space station occupants, their primary mission will be a shakedown cruise, if you will. And most of their time spent on orbit will be spent getting the space station ready for future occupants. The hope is that this space station, when it is finally in the complete mode, will be so automatic that the crew members will be able to concentrate on doing scientific observations.

You'll recall the situation on the space station Mir over the years has been that it's old, it's a bit decrepit and it's very labor intensive just to keep it in orbit, and the crews spent almost all of their time just keeping it flying. The goal here is to do some science.

LIN: All right, thank you very much, Miles O'Brien.

A dramatic liftoff there of the space shuttle Atlantis. Looks like the weather did hold.

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