Commander Ken Cockrell, Pilot Mark Polansky and Mission Specialists Bob Curbeam, Marsha Ivins and Tom Jones rocketed away from Launch Pad 39-A at 5:13p.m. Central time, lighting up the central Florida skies as they began their pursuit of the international complex. The launch was delayed by about two minutes while ground controllers resolved a false reading from a sensor in a data relay unit on the Shuttle. Atlantis' flight is the 102nd Space Shuttle mission.
At the time of launch, the three Expedition One crewmembers aboard the ISS were passing over the north Atlantic due east of St. John's, Newfoundland, about 1,500 statute miles ahead of Atlantis. They were notified of the launch minutes after Atlantis reached orbit by Spacecraft Communicator Dan Burbank in Mission Control, and a video of the launch was transmitted to the crew. Expedition Commander Bill Shepherd, Pilot Yuri Gidzenko and Flight Engineer Sergei Krikalev will be awakened shortly after 4 a.m. Central time Thursday, their 100th day in space, a little over an hour before an unmanned Progress resupply vehicle is scheduled to be undocked from the ISS at around 5:25 a.m. The Progress undocking will clear the way for Atlantis to link up to the station on Friday. The Progress will be commanded into a destructive deorbit several hours after undocking.
Less than nine minutes after liftoff, Atlantis' astronauts went to work to prepare the Shuttle's systems for their planned 11-day mission. The first major task on the flight plan was to open Atlantis' cargo bay doors prior to receiving a "go" for orbital operations from Ascent Flight Director LeRoy Cain. The astronauts are expected to set up computers and flight deck gear before beginning an eight-hour sleep period at 10:11 p.m. Central time. The Shuttle crew will be awakened at 6:11 a.m. Friday to begin its first full day in space.
With this evening's successful launch behind them, Atlantis' astronauts will turn their attention to their chase of the International Space Station, performing several firings of the ship's jet thrusters over the next two days to set up a docking with the outpost on Friday just before 11 a.m. Over the ensuing week, the crew will perform three space walks as they help to install and hook up the 16-ton Destiny research lab.