Discovery's Fiery Launch Near Picture Perfect

Under a predawn Florida sky, the space shuttle Discovery launches for a 13-day mission to the International Space Station. The mission also represents the second of five scheduled last planned man missions by NASA.

A spectacular predawn launch of the space shuttle Discovery on one of the last manned missions to the International Space Station had NASA officials glowing. The 6:21 a.m. EDT liftoff of Discovery went off without a hitch.
Mike Moses, chair of the Mission Management Team, said it was "a spectacular launch and picture-perfect countdown." He outlined a few minor technical issues that were recorded, but the spacecraft and crew were ready to start an "action-packed mission."
Discovery is carrying a multipurpose logistics module filled with science racks for the laboratories aboard the station. The mission has three planned spacewalks, with work to include replacing an ammonia tank assembly, retrieving a Japanese experiment from the station's exterior and switching out a rate gyro assembly on the S0 segment of the station's truss structure.
The mission also represents the second of five scheduled last planned man missions by NASA. Unless President Obama or Congress changes its mind, the shuttle fleet will be shut down at the end of the year.
Discovery and crew will spend 13 days in space on their mission to the ISS. Commander Alan Poindexter is leading the mission. Joining Poindexter are Pilot Jim Dutton and Mission Specialists Rick Mastracchio, Clay Anderson, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson and Naoko Yamazaki of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
Also on hand for the post-launch press conference was Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency President Keiji Tachikawa, who noted that this will be the first time two Japanese astronauts will be in space at the same time, as Discovery's Mission Specialist Naoko Yamazaki joins Expedition 23 crew member Soichi Noguchi for the STS-131 mission.