The robot probe Magellan streaked across the solar system Friday at 25,000 mph on its way to Venus, and the astronauts who launched the spacecraft turned to more routine tasks aboard Atlantis.
Deployment of the probe from the shuttle's cargo bay Thursday night signaled a revival of an American planetary-science program that has been dormant since 1978."The spacecraft is performing just beautifully. All systems are operational and normal. It couldn't be better," John Gerpheide, Magellan project manager, said a few hours after the probe was launched.
Atlantis' fiery blastoff Thursday afternoon followed a cliff-hanging, 59-minute wait that ground controllers and the five astronauts endured because of the fickle Florida weather. With just five minutes left in the shuttle's launch window, controllers found a hole in the clouds and Atlantis thundered into the sky at 12:47 p.m. MDT.
About six hours after the liftoff, Magellan was gently ejected from the shuttle's cargo bay and the $550 million interplanetary mission began.
"At last check, all systems were working exceptionally well on Magellan," Mission Control commentator Jeffrey Carr said Friday. The space shuttle also was performing well, Carr said.
During the rest of the mission, the astronauts will try to photograph lightning systems at night and attempt to grow crystals of indium by melting and then resolidifying the material.
The crew members also will take other photographs of the Earth as well as test various systems on the orbiter. Another planned project includes taking saliva samples during the flight to determine how an anti-motion sickness drug is absorbed by the body in zero gravity.
Atlantis, in orbit 184 miles above the Earth, is scheduled to land Monday afternoon at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.