(from the WashingtonTimes.com) CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — With Internet-savvy NASA fans cheering on the shuttle and churning out constant Twitter updates, Atlantis sailed smoothly into orbit Monday with six astronauts and a full load of spare parts for the International Space Station.

The supply run should keep the space station humming for years to come and have the shuttle astronauts in space through Thanksgiving.

Atlantis was clearly visible as it shot through thin afternoon clouds, to the delight of Twittering space enthusiasts who won front-row seats to the launch. The 100 contest winners splashed news – mostly Tweeting “wow” and “amazing” about the liftoff – over countless cell phones and computers in 140 characters or less.

“What’s exciting to me is that they’ve captured the spirit and the excitement that we all feel, and they were able to capture it in a very few number of characters,” NASA space operations chief Bill Gerstenmaier said with a chuckle. “They’re amazing, little, short statements about what they felt.”

Atlantis will reach the space station Wednesday. As the shuttle blasted off, the station was soaring 220 miles above the South Pacific. Launch director Mike Leinbach wished the astronauts good luck and said, “We’ll see you back here just after Thanksgiving.”

“We’re excited to take this incredible vehicle for a ride and meet up with another incredible vehicle,” shuttle commander Charles Hobaugh replied.

NASA wants to stockpile as many pumps, tanks, gyroscopes and other oversized pieces of equipment as possible at the space station before the three remaining shuttles retire next fall. None of the other visiting spacecraft is big enough to carry so many large pieces.

The space agency expects to keep the space station flying until 2015, possibly 2020 if President Obama gives the go-ahead.

During their 11-day flight, Mr. Hobaugh and his crew, including the first orthopedic surgeon in space, Dr. Robert Satcher Jr., will unload the nearly 30,000 pounds of equipment and experiments. Most of the gear will be attached to the outside of the space station on storage platforms.

Three spacewalks will be conducted beginning Thursday to hook everything up and get a jump on the next shuttle flight.

The launch seemed to go perfectly. Only three small pieces of foam insulation were spotted coming off the fuel tank, and it was not a concern, said Mr. Gerstenmaier.

“What a great way to start this mission,” he told reporters. He cautioned that the flight ahead was tough, and “we need to stay focused.”

While NASA officials were pleased, the Twittering invitees were downright ecstatic. They were among the first to sign up online last month for the opportunity to see a launch up close, and filed Twitter updates practically nonstop.

“The Wi-Fi and cellular networks are so bogged down with excited Tweets that it is hard to get messages out,” posted Laura Burns, 33, a Columbia, Md., software systems engineer.

NASA estimates the 100 Tweeters, or Tweeps as they’re called, have a combined following of more than 150,000.

Associated Press.  Reprinted from the Washington Times.  For educational purposes only.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.


1. a) When did the space shuttle Atlantis depart for the International Space Station?
b) When will Atlantis arrive at the Space Station?
c) When will the Atlantis return to earth?

2. Why did 100 Twittering space enthusiasts attend the launch of the Atlantis?

3. What reaction did NASA space operations chief Bill Gerstenmaier have to the attendance of the Tweeps?

4. What is the purpose of Atlantis’ voyage? Be specific.

5. Why do you think NASA wanted the Tweeps to attend?

6. Read the “Background” information below on the International Space Station. How important is it to you to continue funding the U.S. Space program, despite the cost? Explain your answer.



  • The International Space Station (ISS) is an internationally developed research facility currently being assembled in Low Earth Orbit.
  • On-orbit construction of the station began in 1998 and is scheduled to be completed by 2011, with operations continuing until at least 2015.
  • The ISS serves as a long-term research laboratory in space, with experiments in fields including biology, human biology, physics, astronomy and meteorology being carried out daily in the station’s microgravity environment.
  • The station represents a union of several space station projects including the US Space Station Freedom, the Soviet/Russian Mir-2, the European Columbus and the Japanese Kibō. Budget issues with each station, however, led to the separate projects being merged into a single multi-national space station.
  • The ISS project began in 1994 with the Shuttle-Mir program, and the first module of the station, Zarya, was launched in 1998 by Russia. Assembly has been ongoing ever since, with a complex of pressurized modules, external trusses and other components being launched by U.S. Space Shuttles, Russian Proton rockets and Russian Soyuz rockets.
  • As of July 2009, the station consists of ten pressurized modules and an extensive Integrated Truss Structure (ITS). Power is provided by sixteen large solar arrays mounted on the external truss, in addition to four smaller arrays on Russian modules. The station … travels at an average speed of 17,227 miles per hour, completing 15.7 orbits per day.
  • The ISS is operated as a joint project between NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA).
  • Ownership and utilization of the station is set out via several intergovernmental treaties and agreements, with Russia retaining full ownership of its own modules, and the rest of the station being allocated between the other international partners.
  • The cost of the station project has been estimated … between $35 billion to $160 billion over a course of 30 years, … making the ISS the most expensive object ever constructed. This large cost has meant that the ISS program has been the target of various criticisms over its financing, research capabilities and technical design.

The International Space Station serves primarily as a research laboratory, offering an advantage over spacecraft such as NASA’s Space Shuttle because it is a long-term platform in the space environment, allowing long-duration studies to be performed, both on specific experiments and on the human crews that operate them. The presence of a permanent crew also means that the station offers benefits over unmanned spacecraft as experiments can be monitored, replenished, repaired or replaced as required by the crew, as can other components of the spacecraft itself. Scientists on the ground, therefore, have swift access to their data and can modify experiments or launch new ones as and when required, benefits generally unavailable on specialized unmanned spacecraft. (all of the precedining information is from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Space_Station.)


For information and video on the ISS from NASA’s website, go to nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html.

For NASA’s interactive reference guide to the space station, go to nasa.gov/externalflash/ISSRG/index.html.

Visit NASA’s Twitter page at twitter.com/NASA.

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