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STS-115 Milestone Gallery:
Shuttle Atlantis soars toward space station

September 8, 2006Atlantis has left the planet.

Atlantis launches from Pad 39B. More photographs below.

The shuttle orbiter departed Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 10:15 a.m. CDT on Saturday. Aboard were the STS-115 crew, a new truss segment, and a pair of solar arrays for the space station. The lift-off came on the last day of the launch window, capping two weeks of multiple delays and scrubs caused by technical problems and weather-related concerns.

The STS-115 mission marks a return to assembly for the International Space Station, which has been halted since the Columbia accident in 2003.

"It's been almost four years, two return to flight missions, a tremendous amount of work by thousands of individuals to get the shuttle program back to where we are right now and that's on the verge of restarting the station assembly sequence," said Atlantis' Commander Brent Jett.

"We're confident over the next few weeks, and few years for that matter, that NASA's going to prove to our nation, to our partners and our friends around the world that it was worth the wait and the sacrifice. We're ready to get to work," said Jett just before launch.

Jett's six-person crew includes pilot Chris Ferguson and mission specialists Dan Burbank, Joe Tanner and Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper. Steven MacLean, from the Canadian Space Agency, completes the STS-115 crew.

Over three spacewalks, Burbank, MacLean, Stefanyshyn- Piper and Tanner will install the P3/P4 integrated truss — a segment of the outpost's backbone — and a second set of solar arrays, essentially doubling the station's ability to generate power and adding 17.5 tons to its mass.

The planned 11-day flight is the 27th mission for Atlantis.

When the shuttle arrives at the station on Monday, it will mark only the second time that as many as four of the station's five international partners have been represented on-board.

Click on thumbnails to enlarge

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