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Shuttle Discovery in Orbit

By: Drew Levinson/CBS News
By: Drew Levinson/CBS News

After a two and a half year holding pattern the shuttle Discovery is in space, a 12-day journey to the International Space Station, but during that takeoff at least one of the many cameras was keeping an eye on the liftoff's every angle and caught a glimpse of some flying debris.

Questions are: what if any damage did it do, and what to do if there is problem?

In an atmosphere filled with questions, America’s beleaguered space program is once again off the ground. Bathed in Florida sunshine, the space shuttle Discovery and its seven astronauts roared toward the heavens hoping to put the hell of the past two and half years behind them.

A faulty fuel gauge forced NASA to scrub the launch 13 days ago. This time no glitch there, but cameras caught what appeared to be a piece of tile that sheered off the orbiter as well as debris that flew off an external tank. It did not appear to hit the shuttle.

John Shannon, Flight Operations and Integration Manager, says, "As far as what that is off the external tank, I don't know. I am very much looking forward to the external tank photos that we get that will shed a lot more light on that."

NASA is still haunted by the ghosts of the Columbia disaster when it failed to realize insulation hitting a thermal tile on takeoff would later lead to its destruction.

This time those rocket scientists want to make sure it doesn't happen again. Now that Discovery is up in air they'll be conducting a series of tests. They include inspecting the spacecraft and repairing samples of thermal tiles they damaged deliberately. Mission experts say any more Columbia class disasters and NASA could be history, and that would disappoint those who still have stars in their eyes.

“It's beautiful; God bless America and Godspeed.”

Good words, but in a couple of weeks NASA wants to hear a couple more: “mission accomplished.”


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