May 11, 2009 03:24 PM
The space shuttle Atlantis lifted off without event just after 2:00 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Atlantis is carrying seven astronauts on the final scheduled servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Four of the astronauts will pair off to perform five spacewalks to repair and upgrade Hubble, replacing a critical electronic switchboard that partly failed in September and installing two new scientific instruments, among other procedures.
The shuttle reached orbit eight and a half minutes after an on-time launch at 2:01:56. During pre-launch checks, ground crews had expressed some concern about ice buildup on a liquid hydrogen line, but further inspections indicated that the ice was not extensive enough to pose a danger during ascent.
On Wednesday the orbiter will rendezvous with Hubble, and astronaut Megan McArthur will carefully pull the telescope into Atlantis's payload bay with a robotic arm. Then the long and ambitious servicing process begins—and, given the spacewalk snags of the March shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS), it would hardly surprise if the Atlantis crew were unable to complete all of its goals.
The 11-day Atlantis mission, officially designated STS-125, is one of the last flights remaining before the scheduled retirement of the shuttle program next year. Only seven launches remain on the calendar, the first of which is a mission to the ISS next month to deliver and install a Japanese science module.
Photo of Atlantis lifting off from Kennedy Space Center today: NASA Television
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