Even under poor weather conditions, the Discovery orbiter lifted off from Cape Canaveral as scheduled at 11:48 (EDT) this morning. Its complex 14-day mission, known as STS-120, will include installing a 16-ton port module known as Harmony to the International Space Station (ISS). This space shuttle flight also represents something of a historical milestone, as the commanders of both Discovery and the ISS, the two human-operated spacecraft now in orbit, are women, a first in the annals of space flight.
(See our blog entry from yesterday.)
"It was one of the cleanest countdowns we've had since I've been launch director," NASA's Mike Leinbach said.
According to NASA, the seven-member crew of Discovery has a tight schedule that calls for placing the new module to the ISS, moving a tower of solar arrays already in space to a new location, and overseeing the station crew rotation that will see 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.
It will take about 48 hours for Discovery to maneuver toward and dock with the ISS. The shuttle crew will then work with their three space station colleagues to perform five extravehicular activities over 10 days to accomplish the multiple assignments they have been tasked with.