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Special Event

Space Shuttle Atlantis Lifts Off

Aired February 7, 2001 - 6:13 p.m. ET


WOODRUFF: In Florida, the Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to lift off just moments from now. And for the latest, let's go to our CNN space correspondent Miles O'Brien. He's at the Kennedy Space Center -- Miles

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Judy. It's a beautiful day here at the Kennedy Space Center. Has been all day. The only weather issue on this past day has been the weather at a potential trans-Atlantic abort landing site at Morocco.

All that has cleared up and were are now two minutes and 39 seconds away from the expected lift off of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. And joining me live here at the Cape to walk us through what is going on in the Orbiter and up through its ascent and on its way into space is Mike Lopez Alegria, who was on the last -- excuse me, the second- to-last mission to the International Space Station and conducted a series of space walks out there. Knows a lot about what is going on at the International Space Station.

Inside Atlantis is the $1.4 billion Destiny Scientific Laboratory. Mike, put that in perspective. Why is that an important piece for the space station?

MICHAEL LOPEZ ALEGRIA, ASTRONAUT: Well, two reasons, Miles. First it's the first science capability we're going to have. The lab is outfitted with a rack accommodation modules able which will be able to accept different types of experiments so we can do our first science.

And, secondly, it's going to be sort of the new command post for the whole space station, sort of shifting the command and control from the Russian segment over to the American segment. This is a process that will take a couple of weeks. But once it's done, we'll be running the show out of Houston through Destiny.

O'BRIEN: All right, the countdown now at a minute and 30 seconds. Get us into the countdown and what is going on board. Commander Ken Cockrell in the left seat, a crew of four sitting with him there. What is going on right now there and in the large control center right now?

ALEGRIA: Right, Ken's in the left seat; pilot Mark Polansky is in the right seat. Between them is Marsha Ivins, a flight engineer, and they are basically waiting for the next minute, monitoring some systems. But all the APUs, the auxiliary power units which gimbal the motors have all been checked out already.

The engine start is the next sequence, and that will happen at t- minus six seconds. They'll be paying very close attention to that, as will the computers on the ground which will make sure that the three engines are at nominal thrust and 100 percent before igniting the solid rocket boosters, which will happen at t-minus zero.

O'BRIEN: Let's listen in for a minute to George Diller (ph), who is NASA public affairs as he describes these last few moments now, at about 34 seconds to launch, here, the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... computer is now controlling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty-five seconds, 20 seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: R&J armed. Sound suppression water system now activated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T-minus 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, go for main engine start, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 and liftoff of Space Shuttle Atlantis with Destiny, a science laboratory for the 21st century.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houston now controlling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houston Atlantis program.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger, roll Atlantis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The roll maneuver is complete aboard Atlantis. The vehicle is now in a heads-down position on course for a 51.6 degree, 201 statute mile orbit. Approaching 30 seconds into the flight. They're preparing to begin throttle down of the main engines as the vehicle prepares to pass through the area of maximum dynamic pressure on the orbiter.

O'BRIEN: You're listening to the voice of Kyle Herring, who is at NASA's Houston public affairs commentator, and Mike, what we're looking at right there is the tremendous thrust of the solid rocket boosters. A good 80 percent of the work of getting a shuttle to space is done by the solid rocket boosters, isn't it?

ALEGRIA: That's right. The two boosters combined produce about 7.2 million...


O'BRIEN: Go with throttle up, indicating...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... approaching one minute and 10 seconds into the flight. All systems in good shape. The hydraulic systems, auxiliary power unites in excellent shape as are the electricity producing fuel cells aboard the vehicle.

Atlantis already traveling 1500 miles per hour. Downrange from the launch site 10 miles at an altitude of 13 miles. One minute and 30 seconds into the flight. At this point, Atlantis has already burned more than two million pounds of fuel and weighs half of what it did at launch.

ALEGRIA: Miles, it's burning nine tons of propellant per second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... smoothly aboard the orbiter.

O'BRIEN: If you take a look at that wide shot, that is one of the most spectacular sights I have even seen, Mike. Yes, the plume is lit up by the sun.

ALEGRIA: Right, just after sunset here, but the plume is clearly in the part of the sky that is still lit. In fact, you can see the terminator quite clearly, which is a transition between night and day. Where they are it's still day. Where you are down here it's technically night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two minutes, 10 seconds into the flight. Atlantis traveling 3,000 miles per hour at an altitude of 31 miles, downrange from the launch site 40 miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, the solid rocket boosters having done their job. And Mike Lopez Alegria, I know everybody in NASA and in the space program who knows anything about the shuttle breathes a sigh of relief when they see those solids wafting their way down to the ocean to be refurbished and used for yet another mission.

That was a spectacular sight, indeed, and the space shuttle on its way to do an important job in the International Space Station, really getting a significant piece on this mission.

ALEGRIA: Yes, this is a big milestone. We're sort of on a roll here, starting with our launch in October, followed by a foray in November and December and now this flight. This is a big chunk of the assembly that is really going to get the ball rolling.

O'BRIEN: Mike Lopez Alegria, thanks for joining us. We will continue, of course, to watch the Space Shuttle Atlantis as it continues its flight up to orbit. It's got another five minutes before its actually in space, and we'll be watching it closely. We'll let you know if there's any problems along the way. But we are watching it closely here.

Miles O'Brien CNN, reporting live from the Kennedy Space Center.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Miles. We never get tired of looking at those remarkable picture -- Bernie.



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