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A safe return to space

Published June 9, 2007


THE LIFTOFF: Space shuttle Atlantis successfully launched Friday, lit by the fiery blasts of booster rockets and the soft glow of a setting sun. By all appearances, its giant external tank worked fine, thanks to repairs that patched thousands of pockmarks caused by a February hailstorm. NASA officials think a small piece of foam that fell about two minutes into the launch caused no damage.

THE MISSION: A busy construction job. Astronauts will add a segment to the international space station and unfurl two sets of solar panels to provide more power to the orbiting laboratory. The task involves three space walks by veteran astronaut Jim Reilly and first-timer John "Danny" Olivas.

THE CHALLENGE: Atlantis is orbiting Earth, but other teams already are readying Endeavour for a planned Aug. 9 launch, and hoping Discovery can blast off Oct. 20. NASA hopes it can fly 15 more shuttle flights to finish building the space station and fix the Hubble space telescope in just four years.

THE LANDING: When the crew returns around June 19, members will bring home astronaut Sunita Williams, who has been aboard the space station since December. By then, she will have passed Shannon Lucid as the woman who has logged the most time in space on a single flight.

[Last modified June 9, 2007, 02:23:58]

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