After lift-off, the solid rocket boosters attached to the sides of the large, reddish, external fuel tank continue to burn for approximately 2 minutes. When their fuel is spent, they separate from the tank, fall back into the sea, and are retrieved for re-use on subsequent Shuttle missions. The Shuttle's three main engines continue to fire, using half a million gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Between 8 and 9 minutes into the flight Earth orbit is achieved, the external tank is cast away, and the astronauts use small maneuvering engines to ease the Shuttle into its final orbit.


Atlantis out-the-window view showing a Soyuz spacecraft docked with Mir