Space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from Cape Canaveral

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Cape Canaveral (Florida, US), Nov.17 (ANI): The space shuttle "Atlantis" rocketed into orbit on Monday with six astronauts and a full load of spare parts for the International Space Station.

The Atlantis shot into a partly cloudy afternoon sky in front of about 100 space enthusiasts who won front-row seats.

It was NASA's first launch "tweetup," and the invitees splashed news mostly tweeting "wow" and "amazing" about the lift-off over countless cell phones and computers.

"We wish you good luck, Godspeed, and we'll see you back here just after Thanksgiving," launch director Mike Leinbach told shuttle commander Charles Hobaugh right before lift-off.The Atlantis will reach the space station Wednesday.

As the shuttle blasted off, the station was soaring 220 miles (350 kilometers) above the South Pacific.

NASA wants to stockpile as many pumps, tanks, gyroscopes and other oversize 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 such large pieces.

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

During their 11-day flight, Hobaugh and his crew including the first orthopedic surgeon in space, Dr. Robert Satcher Jr. will unload the nearly 30,000 pounds (13,600 kilograms) 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 China Daily reports. (ANI)

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