one giant step

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    From ABC Online:

    Shuttle blasts Aussie spiders, Israeli astronaut into orbit

    The Space Shuttle Columbia has blasted off from Kennedy Space Centre in the United States, taking an Israeli astronaut into space for the first time.

    NASA says the shuttle taking Israeli Ilan Ramon and six other crew on a 16-day mission made "a perfect launch" overnight (AEDT).

    There is also an Australian presence on board - a number of golden orb spiders bred by Melbourne Zoo and students and teachers at Melbourne's Glen Waverly secondary college.

    The spiders will be involved in an experiment to test the effects of zero gravity on web making and to see if spider silk could be used in orbital engineering.

    Melbourne Zoo's Judith Ainsworth Henke says those involved in the project are "very proud and very excited".

    "We're looking forward to welcoming everyone home and then in due course, once they've gone through their quarantine period, welcoming the spiders back," she said.

    Eight minutes after the take-off from Florida, the shuttle moved into orbit 277 kilometres from earth.

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