Atlantis launches successfully

As mentioned yesterday, the space shuttle Atlantis set off for the fourth and possibly final Hubble Servicing Mission (HSM4). Also known as STS-125, referring to the project number in the shuttle mission log, the launch went as planned with two minor hiccups. The first was some minor damage to four heat tiles on the way up, which Nasa thinks should be fine. The second is that whilst the Eddington Astronomical Society sat in the meeting room at the Kendal Museum, thirty seconds before launch our feed from Nasa TV went dead… It returned when the shuttle was in flight…

So for those of you us who missed the launch, here it is in glorious HD.

The two smaller solid fuel rockets on the sides drop off after two minutes, are collected by boat, cleaned up and reused. The big orange tank on the front however, falls off later in the flight and burns in the atmosphere. Research into reuse of the big tank concluded it would be too expensive to produce one – or I suppose build one to convert into a space station as happened with Skylab.

Nasa have uploaded video of the External Fuel Tank (ET or EFT) as it begins its descent to their youtube page.

People can follow the mission from the point of view of the shuttle mission pages, the Hubble mission pages or view Nasa TV for some of the highlights. The mission will include five high pressure spacewalks to pull apart and rebuild the HST and sees astronauts travelling to very high altitudes. The HST is in a higher orbit than say the International Space Station as there are no humans aboard, meaning it can survive in the more radioactive environment further from the Earth. The Earth is protected from cosmic radiation by its magnetic field and the further into it you are (ie the lower altitude you are), the less cosmic radiation you will encounter.

Twitter users can also follow the mission Commander Mike Polansky via @Astro_127, one of the astronauts, Mike Massimino, via @Astro_Mike, and Nasa itself via @NASA. Well, so can non-twitter users if they either visit those pages repeatedly or put their rss feeds into a news aggregator website.

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