Atlantis' astronauts are trying their hands at cinematography, growing corn and photographing lightning as they orbit Earth.
The crew completed its main task about six hours after the shuttle soared into orbit Wednesday, dispatching the Galileo probe riding in its cargo bay on a six-year journey to Jupiter.During their five-day mission the astronauts will be busy completing several new experiments and some that were conducted on earlier shuttles.
One experiment will measure sections of the Earth's protective ozone layer with an instrument that calculates the amount of solar irradiance from the sun and how much irradiance is scattered back, never reaching the Earth.
That information will be compared to data taken by nearly identical instruments on three satellites. Researchers want to calibrate data from the satellites with measurements taken on the shuttle, said Michael Braukas, a spokesman for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
"They're curious to see whether or not the readings (from the satellites) are true," Braukas said. NASA plans to fly the experiment on several more shuttle flights.
Atlantis' five astronauts also planned to monitor corn seedlings in four special canisters as part of an experiment aimed at determining how gravity affects developing plants. The plants were to be frozen after four days of growth and then studied on Earth.
Researchers hope the experiment one day will help them devise ways to grow food in space and improve crops on Earth.
Astronauts also plan to use the powerful IMAX camera to take footage for two planned films called "Exploring the Blue Planet," and "To the Stars." IMAX film taken on three previous flights was used in an earlier film.
The 5,990-pound Galileo and its 32,500-pound rocket booster was deployed by remote control at 5:15 p.m. MDT - six hours and 21 minutes after launch from the Kennedy Space Center.
The booster fired on schedule an hour later, dispatching Galileo to its historic appointment with the solar system's largest planet.
Galileo is the most sophisticated interplanetary spacecraft ever built, a nuclear-powered robot that will drop instruments into Jupiter's atmosphere before beginning a 22-month orbital study of the planet. On the way, it will also study asteroids.
Equipped with a battery of high-tech sensors and cameras, Galileo will beam back pictures that will be 20 to 1,000 times better than the spectacular Jovian photos beamed home by Voyager 1 in the late 1970s.