Space shuttle Discovery blasts off from Florida
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla, July 4 (Reuters) The US space shuttle Discovery roared off its Florida launch pad today on a voyage to the International Space Station, a mission whose failure would likely ground the shuttle fleet permanently.
Discovery, carrying seven astronauts, lifted off from the seaside launch site at 2:38 p.m. EDT (1838 GMT) and soared into sunny skies, jettisoning its booster rockets about 2 and a half minutes into the flight. It reached orbit safely about 9 minutes after launch.
Postponed twice during the weekend due to bad weather at the Kennedy Space Center, the launch was just the second since the destruction of the shuttle Columbia and the deaths of seven crew members in February 2003.
NASA's top administrators decided to launch Discovery over the objections of some key safety and engineering officials who said the shuttle's troubled fuel tank, which triggered the Columbia disaster, needed additional repairs.
Any serious problems with the mission would likely bring a premature end to the US shuttle program and leave the 100-billion dollar space station unfinished.
Discovery's mission is to test the fuel tank, carry much-needed equipment and supplies to the space station and make repairs to the orbiting outpost.
Reuters DH VP0046