The Shuttle Atlantis lifted off Monday from Kennedy Space Center, carrying Citadel graduate Randy Bresnik on a journey that will include a pair of spacewalks designed to help extend the life of the orbiting International Space Station.
Bresnik, a member of the Class of 1989 and the school's first astronaut alumnus, is part of a six-man crew that's delivering spare parts to the space lab. Three spacewalks are planned during the 11-day mission, which is one of the last six shuttle missions before NASA ends the program.
"This flight is all about spares -- basically, we're getting them up there while we still can," Brian Smith, the lead space station flight director for the mission, said on NASA's Web site.
Atlantis launched on schedule at 2:28 p.m. and reached speeds of 15,000 mph during its eight-minute ascent.
"Kicking off the work week with a Monday commute to orbit," said an announcer at NASA Web TV.
Citadel photographer Russ Pace was about three miles away from Atlantis when the shuttle blasted off.
"It was spectacular," he said.
Pace set up remote, sound-activated cameras 1,000 feet from the shuttle. He was waiting to retrieve them two hours after the launch because NASA told him it wasn't safe to go there until the fumes and smoke had cleared.
Some of the spare parts in the 30,000-pound payload will be used to replace failed components of the systems that provide the station power or keep it from overheating or tumbling through space. Others are essential parts of the robotics system that allow the astronauts to replace the other parts when they wear out.
Mission specialists Mike Foreman and Robert Satcher will conduct the first spacewalk, installing a spare antenna to the space station and lubricating its Japanese robotic arm. Bresnik and Foreman have several jobs on the second spacewalk, including the installation of an additional ham radio antenna and an antenna for wireless helmet camera video.
Two days later, Bresnik and Satcher will perform the mission's final spacewalk. Among their duties will be mounting experiment trays with hundreds of material samples outside the station. Each spacewalk is expected to last about 6.5 hours.
On the return flight, space station crew member Nicole Stott will come back to Earth with the crew.
It's going to be quite a week for Bresnik, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Marines. He and his wife, Rebecca, a NASA lawyer, are expected to become parents of a baby girl Thursday. The Bresniks appeared Monday in a taped interview on ABC's "Good Morning America." They live in Houston.
"I can't believe how blessed I am," Bresnik said of the upcoming birth and his chance to go into space.
Rebecca Bresnik told the morning show, "I will admit the first day we found out there would be a conflict, I was like, 'Why can't you change your mission?' "
The Bresniks have a 3 1/2-year-old son, Wyatt, whom they adopted last year from Ukraine.
Citadel Commandant of Cadets Leo Mercado arrived at Kennedy Space Center on Sunday to represent the college and its alumni.
"Randy Bresnik illuminates the leadership of Citadel alumni in our nation and the world of space exploration," Mercado said in a statement released by the school. "The Citadel family is proud of Randy, and we wish him and the Atlantis crew godspeed and success."
Bresnik, who was in Band Company at The Citadel, is from Santa Monica, Calif. He majored in mathematics and minored in political science. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps and was selected to attend TOPGUN and Test Pilot School, flying F/A-18s and various test aircraft and ultimately logging more than 4,500 hours in 79 different aircraft.
His flight knowledge and experience uniquely qualified him to enter NASA's 2004 astronaut class. He since has spent his time training to pilot and land the space shuttle, learning to spacewalk and becoming skilled in manipulating the craft's robotic arm.