2-24 by Nate Harrington
After a nearly four month delay, Discovery and its five man, one woman crew finally lifted off, bound for the International Space Station.
This is Discovery's 39th mission, more than any other shuttle in NASA's fleet.
NASA Launch Director Mike Leinbach says, ""It is kind of bittersweet. She has been an amazing machine. She's done everything we've asked her to do."
On its final voyage, Discovery is hauling supplies to the international space station, including the first humanoid robot in space, Robonaut2, which will aid in maintenance on the ISS.
But crews were more worried about the problems that kept Discovery grounded, namely the large cracks in the ships external hydrogen fuel tank.
Commander Steve Lindsey talked about the problem earlier this week. "The external fuel tank problem we've been working for several months is probably one of the most difficult technical challenges we've faced in recent years. But the crew did a great job coming together, figuring out a very difficult engineering problem and coming up with a solution."
Besides technical issues, Discovery's lead space walker, Tim Kopra, was injured in a bicycle accident just a month ago, and had to be replaced, adding even more disruption to the flight plan.
But through all the obstacles, the astronauts were ready to go.
Discovery Commander Steve Lindsey says, "We're back here for another attempt at this. We're pretty confident about this one."
After its final flight, Discovery will be prepared for permanent display in a museum.
Cape Canaveral, FL - Space shuttle Discovery has blasted off on its final voyage.
Six astronauts are on board the world's most traveled spaceship. They're headed for the International Space Station after a four-month delay for fuel tank repairs.
This is Discovery's 39th and final mission. It's the first of the three space shuttles to be retired this year.
No other spacecraft has been launched more times.
Tens of thousands witnessed history in the making from the Florida launch site. Countless more watched from surrounding towns. Roads leading into Kennedy Space Center were jammed.
Discovery should reach the space station Saturday. It will deliver a compartment full of supplies as well as the first humanoid robot to fly in space.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)