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Atlantis rockets to space

Story Highlights

NEW: A few small chunks of foam fall harmlessly from external tank
• Shuttle Atlantis heads toward space station on 11-day mission
• 400-year-old Jamestown cargo tag making space journey
• Crew will deliver a pair of solar arrays to the international space station
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- Space shuttle Atlantis blasted off from Kennedy Space Center Friday evening on an 11-day mission to the international space station.

"And liftoff of space shuttle Atlantis to assemble the framework for the science laboratories of tomorrow," said NASA spokesman George Diller as the orbiter raced to space.

The mission was originally scheduled for mid-March but a hailstorm damaged the shuttle's fuel tank and the launch was pushed back to June to allow time for needed repairs.

"We can point to a couple of little problems we had today, but gosh, we shouldn't do that," said Mike Leinbach, NASA launch director. "We should point to the thousands and thousands that go right to allow this masterful event to happen." (Watch the launch Video)

A couple of chunks of foam did come off Atlantis during launch, but Wayne Hale, shuttle program manager, said in a post-launch news conference that it was after the critical period when serious damage can occur.

"I spent a few minutes with the imagery team reviewing the images after launch, and the preliminary word is that we lost no foam off that tank prior to solid rocket motor separation," he said.

"We did see some things come off late, as we have come to expect from all our tanks," he said. "So the tank performed in a magnificent way despite having thousands of repairs done on it."

In command of this mission is Rick Sturckow. Along with Sturckow are pilot Lee Archambault, mission specialists Patrick Forrester, James Reilly, Steven Swanson and John Olivas and flight engineer Clayton Anderson.

Anderson will replace Sunita Williams on the international space station and Williams will return to Earth aboard Atlantis.

Atlantis is carrying a metal cargo tag from historic Jamestown, Virginia. The tag is almost 400 years old and reads "Yames Towne." Its space voyage is meant to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown settlement in 1607.

During their time at the orbiting outpost, the Atlantis crew will deliver a new segment to the station known as a truss and install solar panels, or arrays, that help generate power for the station. The arrays are similar to those installed in September by the STS-115 Discovery crew.

Each solar array is about 115 feet long, with a total wingspan of more than 240 feet. The arrays will provide power equivalent to the power used by 40 typical U.S. homes, according to NASA.

Three spacewalks are planned, with room for an additional walk if spacewalkers run into difficulties.

Reilly and Olivas will perform the first Extra Vehicular Activity or EVA. Forrester and Swanson will do the second spacewalk and Reilly and Olivas will complete the third.

STS-117 is the 118th space shuttle flight, the 21st flight to the station, the 28th flight for Atlantis and the first of four flights planned for 2007.

NASA plans at least 13 more missions to the space station before retiring the shuttle fleet in 2010. A mission in September 2008 is planned to repair the aging Hubble Space Telescope.


Atlantis blasts off for space Friday on the first of four shuttle flights planned for 2007.



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