Discovery embarks on final odyssey
Fri, 25 Feb 2011 12:40:34 GMT
The US shuttle Discovery has made its final journey into space to deliver a logistic module to the International Space Station (ISS) before retirement.
NASA's most-journeyed shuttle lifted off at 21:53 GMT and made the ten-minute flight to the Earth's orbit later on Thursday.
Discovery is set to arrive at the ISS on Saturday when it will transport a spare closet module and the first humanoid robot during its 11-day mission which includes two spacewalks.
"It has been a pretty tremendous day in space flight for us," AFP quoted Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for space operations as saying.
However, the last few moments before launch were fraught with anxiety as NASA engineers raced to fix a glitch that temporarily paralyzed some ground computers. The problem was resolved and did not delay the mission further.
The launch was postponed in November after cracks emerged on Discovery's bright orange external fuel tank, causing engineers to puzzle for many weeks over the cause and how to fix it.
In January, they agreed that installing small metal strips, called radius blocks, on the 6.7-meter (22-foot) U-shaped aluminum brackets would reinforce their strength.
When Discovery wraps up this tour, the oldest surviving shuttle will have flown more missions than any other shuttle and taken 180 people into space, including the first female shuttle commander and the first African-American spacewalker. It will become the first of the three-member fleet to enter retirement.
The other two shuttles are scheduled for their final flights later this year, with Endeavour slated to blast into space on April 19 and Atlantis on June 28.
Since its first launch in 1984, Discovery has transported the groundbreaking Hubble Space telescope into space and delivered numerous spare parts to the ISS.
The shuttle was also the first to return to space after two major disasters: the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the Columbia disaster in 2003 when the shuttle broke up on its return to Earth.