Space shuttle blasts off, finally flying on third try

Space shuttle Discovery and seven astronauts blazed into orbit this morning on a spectacular flight to the international space station, hauling up a treadmill named after a TV funnyman and thousands of pounds of more solemn supplies.



Discovery lit up the sky for miles around as it thundered away on NASA's third launch attempt. Lightning flashed far in the distance, and the ascending shuttle resembled a bright star until it blinked out of sight five minutes after liftoff.

The space station was soaring more than 220 miles above the Indian Ocean, southwest of Tasmania, when Discovery took off. The shuttle will reach the orbiting outpost tomorrow night.



"It looks like third time really is the charm," launch director Pete Nickolenko told commander Rick Sturckow. "We wish you and your team good luck and Godspeed."



Tuesday's launch attempt was called off by thunderstorms and Wednesday's by fuel valve trouble. Everything came together in NASA's favour last night; even the valve and its indicator switch behaved, allowing Discovery to blast off seconds before midnight. The shuttle safely reached orbit eight minutes later.



NASA officials were relieved to see no foam flying off the fuel tank; a surprising amount of the insulation came off the fuel tank during last month's launch of Endeavour, causing minor damage. More analysis is needed to ascertain whether any debris broke off Discovery's tank, said space operations chief Bill Gerstenmaier.



Discovery's most prominent payload is NASA's new $5 million (£3m) treadmill, which is named after Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert.



Colbert tried to get a space station room named after himself and even won the online vote earlier this year, but NASA went with Tranquility instead in honor of the 40th anniversary of man's first moon landing.



The comedian said the treadmill — for "all those chubby astronauts" — is a consolation prize.



The treadmill is flying up in more than 100 pieces and won't be put together until sometime next month.



In all, the space shuttle will deliver about 17,000 pounds of gear to the space station. The experiments include six mice that will remain at the orbiting complex until the following shuttle visit in November. Part of a bone loss study, the mice will be the first mammals — other than humans — to spend a prolonged period at the space station.



"Let's go step up the science on the international space station," Sturckow radioed right before liftoff.



Three spacewalks will be performed during the 13-day shuttle flight, to install a new ammonia tank, part of the space station's cooling system, and replace other equipment and retrieve outdoor experiments.



The station also will get a new resident, Nicole Stott. She will replace an astronaut who moved in during the 13-day shuttle flight last month. That spaceman will return to Earth aboard Discovery, as will Buzz Lightyear. The action figure toy has been in orbit for more than a year, courtesy of Walt Disney World.



Stott, who will spend at least three months at the space station, tapped her heart with her right hand before climbing aboard Discovery and said, "I love you" to the cameras, presumably for her husband and 7-year-old son.



Discovery's crew includes two Hispanics, the first time two have flown together in space. Both are Mexican-Americans, and one of them, Jose Hernandez, grew up in a migrant worker family. Hernandez will file bilingual Twitter updates from orbit. A Swede is also on board.



It was NASA's 33rd nighttime shuttle launch and preceded, by just two days, the 25th anniversary of Discovery's first liftoff. Flags flew at half-staff throughout Kennedy Space Center on Friday in memory of Sen. Edward Kennedy.



There were times last night that NASA feared thunderstorms might cause yet another delay. Launch officials were in touch with the weather officer every 15 minutes as conditions flip-flopped between "go" and "no go."



"All the hot air from all the talk we did blew all the clouds away," joked Mike Moses, chairman of the mission management team.



Only seven shuttle flights remain, including this one. A blue-ribbon review committee should file its report soon, offering options to President Obama for the direction of NASA's human spaceflight program. As it stands now, the space shuttles will be retired after space station construction is completed in the next year to year-and-a-half.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballLive: Latest news from Champions League draw
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Scrum Master (Agile, Java, team recruitment)

£45000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Scrum M...

Junior Asset Manager

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Junior As...

Investment Analyst

£33000 - £40000 Per Annum Discretionary profit share: The Green Recruitment Co...

Supply teachers required in Cambridge

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers requi...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?