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Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 03:48 GMT 04:48 UK
Blast-off for third British astronaut
Space shuttle taking off, AP
Space shuttle Atlantis heads for the ISS
British-born astronaut Piers Sellers has become the third person from the UK to go into space.

Dr Sellers, 47, originally from Crowborough in East Sussex, is one of six astronauts on board the US space agency (Nasa) shuttle Atlantis heading for the International Space Station (ISS).

The 11-day mission had been delayed a week by Hurricane Lili until blast-off from Florida on Monday.

Piers Sellers will attempt three spacewalks will on the mission, helping to attach a new girder to the backbone of the orbiting space station.

Camera on shuttle

Television viewers around the world were given a whole new perspective on space shuttle launches when a camera mounted on the external tank of Atlantis fed live pictures of its blast-off back to Earth.

The shuttlecam gave a clear view of the Kennedy Space Center disappearing into the distance for about a minute of the shuttle's eight-and-a-half-minute flight into orbit.

Propellant then misted over the lens, obscuring the moments of booster and external tank separation.

Dr Sellers, who had to become a US citizen to achieve his goal, is the third Briton in space after Helen Sharman, who stayed aboard Russia's Mir space station for a week in 1991, and Michael Foale, who went into orbit the following year.

Record attempt

It will take two days for Atlantis to reach the space station, where the six-strong shuttle crew plans to continue construction work on the platform.

The new girder, or truss, will be used to lock down extra solar arrays.

Dr Sellers is due to attempt three spacewalks during the mission.

A Nasa spokesman said of the launch at 1546 local time (1946 GMT): "We had beautiful weather; it was right on time and everything is looking good."

Faulty heater

It was the first shuttle launch since early June. Cracked fuel lines in the shuttles had forced Nasa to ground its orbiter fleet and begin a repair programme.

After nearly a week's delay because of Hurricane Lili, the Atlantis launch was nearly postponed again when a problem was discovered in a critical water-drainage line on the vehicle.

An on-board heater was running at too high a temperature on Sunday, but engineers worked through the weekend to fix the fault.

The Nasa spokesman said Dr Sellers, who has two children, would be in for some "incredible" views during his first trip into space.

Sky view

"They always say there are spectacular views of the Earth and it will be quite an incredible experience for him - his first flight to the station and he's going to do three spacewalks.

"He's going to be pretty excited to be up there."

The space station, which has three crewmembers on board, was orbiting 390 kilometres (240 miles) above the Pacific, west of the Galapagos Islands, when Atlantis took off on Monday.

As well as following the progress of Dr Sellers on the internet, space watchers in the UK should be able to catch a glimpse of the ISS on Wednesday, weather permitting.

According to the Nasa website, the space station can be seen from the London area for just three minutes from 1916 BST on Wednesday.

A Nasa spokesman said it would look like a fairly bright star moving quickly across the sky eastwards from the north-west.

Watch Nasa smart-cam footage of the blast-off

See also:

08 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
02 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
01 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
05 Aug 02 | Science/Nature
26 Sep 02 | Science/Nature
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