On Monday, NASA associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier told reporters that he does not expect to know what the White House will do until February. But he said the uncertainty has made it difficult for NASA as it flies out the remaining missions.
"How do we keep our workforce and ourselves focused on what we are doing and don't get too distracted by all the 'what if' scenarios?" he said.
The reality of just five more flights also is starting to resonate with the launch team. "It is starting to hit home, I have to admit to you. It is starting to hit home," said Mike Leinbach, launch director at the space center.
But for one day, the worries were put on the back burner.
Minutes before liftoff, Atlantis commander Charlie Hobaugh said: "We're excited to take this incredible vehicle for a ride, and meet up with another incredible vehicle, the International Space Station."
Atlantis, loaded with crucial spare parts, is expected to dock with the station Wednesday. The parts should enable the station to extend its operating life by years,
Also on the mission is pilot Barry E. Wilmore, a Navy captain; mission specialists Leland Melvin, a scientist and former NFL football player; Mike Foreman, a U.S. Navy Captain and veteran spacewalker; Marine Lt. Col. Randy Bresnick and Robert Satcher, an orthopedic surgeon. Wilmore, Bresnick and Satcher were all first-time fliers.
The 11-day flight will keep the astronauts in orbit through Thanksgiving. They will unload nearly 30,000 pounds of pumps, tanks and other spare parts, as well as science experiments.
Atlantis will return to Earth with astronaut Nicole Stott, who has been one of the station's six crew members since late August.
Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.