(2 hours, 2 mins ago) CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. ? With 100 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 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 contest winners splashed news ? mostly tweeting “wow” and “amazing” about the liftoff ? over countless cell phones and computers in 140 characters or less.
Atlantis will reach the space station Wednesday. As the shuttle blasted off, the station was soaring 220 miles 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 so many 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 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.