The Space Shuttle Atlantis, carrying European Space Agency astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy, was launched early this morning on mission STS-84. Launch, from Pad 39a at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, came at the opening of a seven-minute launch window, at 04.07 EDT (10.07 Central European Time). It is headed on its sixth docking mission with the Russian space station Mir.
During the launch phase, Jean-Francois Clervoy monitored the overall performance of Atlantis and its systems, looking out for any anomalies or malfunctions. At the point of external tank separation, he filmed the tank as it fell away, a standard procedure used to document the way it looks and monitor it for damage after the ascent. Clervoy will now turn to activating the Spacehab double unit carrying the scientific experiments. Atlantis will perform a series of manoeuvring burns as it catches up to the orbiting Russian facility. Docking of Atlantis and Mir will take place on the third flight day of the mission, Saturday, May 17, at 04.39 CET.
As Atlantis approaches Mir, new ESA technology designed to enable an automated rendezvous and docking will be tested for the first time in space. It is being developed for Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), an unmanned craft that will deliver supplies to the International Space Station early in the next century. During five days of joint docked operations, 2 700 kg of science equipment, logistics and water will be transferred between Atlantis and Mir. NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger, who has been aboard Mir since mid-September will transfer over to Atlantis. STS-84 crew member Mike Foale will take Linenger's place on Mir and will serve as a station researcher until Atlantis again docks with the station in September.
Atlantis is also carrying ESA's Biorack - one of the most successful and versatile space experimentation facilities - as well as a solidification experiment called MOMO. The Biorack is the main science payload and houses a series of microgravity experiments from scientists in France, Germany and the United States.
The mission is expected to last nine days, with landing scheduled for 24 May at 13.53(Central European Time).
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