Discovery is back in space more than 2 years after the loss of Columbia

Like 3-2-1, orbiter Discovery has successfully shed its Solid Rocket Boosters and External Tank, and shut down the main engines after reaching space.

Solid Rocket Booster separation was triggered 2-minutes and 5-seconds into the flight after burnout of the putty-like fuel packed inside each rocket. The firing of explosive bolts freed the twin boosters from the side of the External Tank, allowing them to peel away from the Space Shuttle. Parachutes were then automatically deployed from the boosters, allowing them to slowly descend into the Atlantic Ocean where they will be towed back to shore.

With the ascent into space complete and fuel onboard the External Tank exhausted, Discovery jettisoned the orange canister. Following jettison, Discovery used it's new belly-mounted digital camera to take pictures of the tank as it fell back into Earth's atmosphere, NASA's official site reports.

NASA's space shuttle Discovery blasted into space from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday morning, more than 2 1/2 years after the U.S. human space flight program was brought to a halt by the loss of Columbia.

Discovery, carrying a crew of seven astronauts to the International Space Station, left Pad 39B at 7:39 a.m. PDT. Galleries of notables, including First Lady Laura Bush and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, watched the launch that went off without a hitch, informs Bloomberg.

"Our hopes and prayers go with you," NASA control told the craft.

"Thank you very much," said flight Cmdr. Eileen Collins, moments before the launch.

"Our long wait may be over. So on behalf of the many millions of people who believe so deeply in what we do, good luck, Godspeed - and have a little fun up there," launch director Mike Leinbach told the astronauts.

More than 12,000 people on the grounds of the space center, including more than 2,000 members of the media, watched Discovery take seven astronauts into space from launch pad 39B at 10:39 a.m. local time. They are on a two-week mission to deliver food, oxygen, and other supplies to the International Space Station.

More than 100 cameras recorded the flight, including one on the craft.

Seconds after liftoff, Discovery cleared the tower, beginning its two-week mission. Two chase planes were in the air as a precaution, reports LA Times.

According to CBC News, NASA will not give a final OK on whether Discovery is safe to return to Earth until halfway through the 12-day flight.

If approval is not given, the crew could attempt repairs or stay at the International Space Station until a second shuttle is sent to bring them back.

As part of their mission, Discovery's crew are testing new safety equipment, including a 150-metre boom made by MDA of Brampton, Ont. They'll use it to look for cracks in the shuttle's wings and nose cap.

As mentioned before, the crew is also delivering vital supplies to the station. Construction has been on hold while the shuttle fleet was grounded because NASA's shuttle is the only vehicle that can carry the equipment.

Photo: NASA

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