The European Space Agency has two astronauts working in space today after the successful launch of the US space shuttle Atlantis carrying European astronaut Jean-François Clervoy from France. He joins Ulf Merbold from Germany, who has been aboard the Russian Mir space station for nearly a month.
Clervoy and five NASA astronauts blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 17:59:43 CET (11:59:43 EST) on a eleven day atmospheric research mission. The shuttle roared away from its seaside launch pad into clear blue skies after a short delay caused by high winds at the emergency landing sites across the Atlantic.
"This mission and others like it represent the future direction of manned space flight" said ESA Director General Jean-Marie Luton, who watched today's launch at Kennedy Space Center.
"We have an ESA astronaut of French nationality flying on an American space shuttle to perform experiments from US, French, Germa Belgium scientists, mounted on an ESA-provided pallet. Later in the mission he will use the shuttle's Canadian-built robotic arm to deploy a German free-flying satellite. Meanwhile, on Russia's Mir space station, ESA astronaut Ulf Merbold is completing a month-long mission, the longest in European space flight. By the end of the decade this level of cooperation will be routine aboard the international space station".
As a mission specialist Clervoy will have an important role to play. His first major task will come tomorrow when he deploys the CRISTA-SPAS free-flying satellite. He will place the German-built spacecraft into orbit using the shuttle's robot arm. During its eight days away from the Shuttle CRISTA- SPAS will study the constituents and dynamic processes of the middle atmosphere.
The main goal of the mission is to study the atmosphere with the ATLAS atmospheric laboratory, a suite of US-European instruments mounted in the payload bay on a Spacelab pallet developed by ESA.
Clervoy is the second ESA astronaut to fly in space with the rank of mission specialist. The Swiss Claude Nicollier became the first in 1992. Clervoy is the first of the ESA astronauts selected in 1992 to fly into orbit.
The mission of Atlantis will end on 14 November with a landing at the Kennedy Space Center.