Shuttle lifts off after month of delays
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Space shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven rocketed into orbit yesterday evening, setting off on a space station construction mission cut short by launch delays that dragged on for more than a month.
Discovery rose from its seaside pad just as the sun was setting, a spectacular sight for a space agency eager to get the flight going. As the shuttle sped away like a brilliant star, part of the launch plume glowed pink, peach and golden. The shuttle was visible for more than four minutes.
A hydrogen leak prevented Discovery from lifting off Wednesday and, before that, hydrogen valves kept the shuttle grounded for weeks in February. Launch pad repairs took care of the leak.
Commander Lee Archambault and his crew, which includes two former schoolteachers, should reach the international space station tomorrow. They're delivering one last set of solar wings for the space station and some crucial equipment for the water-recycling system.
The four-day leak delay forced NASA to shorten Discovery's flight by a day and cut out a spacewalk. Because a Russian Soyuz rocket is due to launch March 26, Discovery has to be gone from the space station by then. The Soyuz will carry up a fresh crew for the space station.