Discovery blasts off safely despite fuel tank concerns
Wednesday 05 July 2006
After several days of false starts and increasing tension, the US space shuttle Discovery yesterday blasted into orbit from Florida in an apparently trouble-free launch.
Three and a half years after the shuttle Columbia was destroyed on its return to Earth, as a result of falling insulation foam damaging the craft's heat shields on take-off, Discovery was permitted to fly despite continuing concerns about this crucial issue. Two weeks ago, Nasa's chief engineer and top-ranking safety official objected to the 12-day mission unless this problem could be eliminated.
Officials said it was possible that small amounts of foam could have been dislodged on take-off and one reporter questioned whether what he and others were looking at on a launch video was a piece of flapping insulation foam.
Eyewitness accounts from Cape Canaveral said that less than five minutes after take-off, a speck could be seen flying off the fuel tank and striking the belly of Discovery and that immediately after launch three small pieces could be seen falling. Nasa experts will spend the coming days examining video footage of the launch in an attempt to assess whether they anticipate any problems.
Discovery launched at 2.38pm local time with Commander Steven Lindsey, an air force fighter pilot, at the controls. The aim of the mission is to connect to the international space station tomorrow. Among Discovery's crew is a German astronaut, Thomas Reiter, who will move into the space station for six months.
"I can't think of a better place to be on 4 July," he said shortly before take-off. "We hope to very soon get you an up close and personal look at the rocket's red glare." The launch director Mike Leinbach said: "Discovery's ready, the weather's beautiful, America is ready to return the space shuttle to flight. So good luck and godspeed, Discovery."
Yet even on Sunday it was obvious that the issue of falling insulation foam had not been overcome. When the launch was delayed because of bad weather it was discovered that a piece three inches long had come loose, but it was decided that by itself this was not cause to ground the mission.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
- 2 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 4 L'Oreal cuts ties with Belgium supporter Axelle Despiegelaere after hunting trip photographs
- 5 War is war: Why I stand with Israel
Ian Thorpe gay: Olympic swimmer comes out in Parkinson interview
Gaza-Israel conflict: Pro-Palestinian demonstrators take to streets of London, Paris and New York in wave of protests
Israel-Gaza conflict: ‘Sderot cinema’ image shows Israelis with popcorn and chairs 'cheering as missiles strike Palestinian targets'
Israel-Gaza conflict: Israeli air strike destroys home for the disabled killing two women residents
Israel-Gaza conflict: Israeli PM says conflict may 'continue for a long time' as hundreds of Palestinians flee their homes
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...
£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...
£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...
£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...