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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

NASA Hails Smooth Launch

NASA officials and launch managers were pleased Tuesday following a clean countdown and flawless launch of space shuttle Discovery from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Launch Director Mike Leinbach said the launch team at NASA's Kennedy Space Center was able to study a potential problem of ice buildup without jeopardizing the shuttle while still launching on time.

"It was one of the cleanest countdowns we've had since I've been launch director," Leinbach said.

Discovery and its seven astronauts have a tight schedule that calls for placing the new Harmony segment to the International Space Station, moving a tower of solar arrays already in space to a new location and overseeing the station crew rotation that will see Discovery astronaut Dan Tani and station resident Clayton Anderson switch places.

"(There is) just a tremendous set of challenges in front of us," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Space Operations.

There won't be much time to savor the liftoff, though, because preparations are already under way to get Atlantis over to the launch pad for a Dec. 6 launch.

"This is exactly what the (launch) teams have trained multiple years for," Gerstenmaier said.

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The 26-year-old U.S. space shuttle program has launched 120 flights -- including Discovery's mission on Tuesday -- and has 13 to go before the fleet is retired.

Discovery's launch sets the stage for the arrival of partner laboratories to the International Space Station.

Here are some facts about the mission.

* Space shuttle Discovery is on its 34th flight and the third of four shuttle missions planned for this year.

* The shuttle's fuel tank originally was to fly on the first mission after the 2003 Columbia disaster. It served as a test article before it was rebuilt and recertified for flight.

* The Harmony module aboard the shuttle is the first new addition to the space station's living space since September 2001.

* The Harmony module was built in Italy by the European Space Agency, which took on the cost of building it in exchange for NASA launching its lab and other components to orbit.

* Harmony joins three U.S. station segments -- the Destiny lab, Unity node and Quest airlock.

* The spacecraft with which NASA intends to replace the shuttle, called Orion vehicles, are being designed to dock at Harmony.

* During Discovery's 10-day stay at the station, five different astronauts will make spacewalks.

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