Shuttle Lifts Off for Space Station Pierre Ducharme/Reuters Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Monday.
Lighting up the predawn sky, the space shuttle Discovery climbed out of darkness and into the glare of the rising sun early Monday, putting on a spectacular sky show as it thundered away on a mission to resupply the International Space Station. Carrying a crew of seven and 10 tons of supplies and equipment, the Discovery lifted off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 6:21 a.m. after a problem-free countdown. Riding atop a rushing plume of fire from the ship’s twin solid-fuel boosters, the fuel-laden 4.5-million-pound spacecraft accelerated through 100 m.p.h. — straight up — in just seven seconds, majestically wheeling about to line up on a northeasterly trajectory paralleling the East Coast. The launching was timed for the moment when Earth’s rotation moved the pad into the orbital plane of the space station. The laboratory complex streaked above the Florida spaceport 15 minutes before the shuttle’s liftoff, a brilliant target hurtling through space at five miles per second. The Discovery’s climb to orbit appeared uneventful, with no obvious signs of problems. A camera mounted on the side of the ship’s external tank showed a few pieces of presumably foam insulation falling away halfway through the ascent, but it was well after the period when debris poses a serious threat to the shuttle’s heat shield. The astronauts did run into a problem later with the shuttle’s Ku-band antenna, used to send data and video to the ground via NASA satellites. Without the antenna, the analysis of a heat shield inspection scheduled for Tuesday will be delayed, and the commander, Capt. Alan G. Poindexter of the Navy, and the pilot, Col. James P. Dutton of the Air Force, will not be able to use the antenna in radar mode during docking with the space station around 3:44 a.m. on Wednesday. While the mission timeline will most likely have to be adjusted, NASA officials said the antenna problem would not affect the goals set for the Discovery’s visit. Waiting to welcome the seven shuttle fliers will be the station’s Expedition 23 crew of five men and one woman, including two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut who arrived at the lab early Sunday aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. “We’re absolutely delighted to have our friends and comrades joining us here in a couple of days,” Col. Timothy J. Creamer of the Army said by radio from the station. “Stand by for a knock on the door,” a flight controller replied. With the Discovery’s mission under way, only three shuttle flights remain as the space agency races to complete the international laboratory before retiring the orbiters this year. The station is essentially complete, but NASA is trying to stock the lab with spare parts and equipment as a hedge against potential problems after the station becomes dependent on smaller, less capable Russian, Japanese and European cargo craft. Three spacewalks are planned by Richard A. Mastracchio, a shuttle veteran, and Clayton C. Anderson, who spent six months on the station in 2007. The seven Discovery crew members — Captain Poindexter; Colonel Dutton; the flight engineer, Dottie M. Metcalf-Lindenburger; Stephanie D. Wilson; Mr. Anderson; Mr. Mastracchio; and a Japanese astronaut, Naoko Yamazaki — are scheduled to undock from the space station on April 16 and land back at the Kennedy Space Center two days later.
By WILLIAM HARWOOD/NYT