CHARLESTON, S.C. --- Two of the six astronauts riding in the space shuttle toward the international space station graduated from South Carolina schools.
The shuttle Atlantis lifted off from Cape Canaveral on Monday. The crew includes U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Randy Bresnik, who graduated from The Citadel 20 years ago, and Dr. Robert Satcher Jr., a 1982 graduate of Denmark-Olar High school. The space flight is a first for both.
The 42-year-old Lt. Col. Bresnik took a replica of The Citadel's spirit flag, "Big Red," into space with him.
The flag has South Carolina's crescent and palmetto tree on a red field.
The 44-year-old Dr. Satcher is the first orthopedic surgeon in space.
Atlantis will reach the space station Wednesday.
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.
NASA wants to stockpile as many pumps, tanks, gyroscopes and other oversized 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 Obama gives the go-ahead.
During their 11-day flight, the crew will unload the nearly 30,000 pounds of equipment and experiments.
Three spacewalks will be conducted beginning Thursday to hook everything up and get a jump on the next shuttle flight.
The launch seemed to go perfectly. Only three small pieces of foam insulation were spotted coming off the fuel tank, and it was not a concern, said Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA's space operations.