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Shuttle Discovery Launches on Space Station Mission

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Space shuttle Discovery blazes into the night sky as it lifts off Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, 15 Mar 2009
Space shuttle Discovery blazes into the night sky as it lifts off Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, 15 Mar 2009

The U.S. space shuttle Discovery has launched on a mission to deliver new components to the International Space Station.

Shuttle Discovery left behind a pink and gold plume of smoke as it took off Sunday evening, with the sun setting on the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"Booster ignition and lift off for space shuttle Discovery, taking the space station to full power for full science," said a ground controller.

NASA officials cleared the flight after technicians fixed a hydrogen leak in the shuttle's fueling system, which delayed the launch from last week. Engineers discovered the problem during fueling, and worried that any excess hydrogen on the launch pad could cause an explosion during engine ignition.

The delays forced NASA officials to shorten the shuttle's mission by one day and eliminate one space walk. The changes were needed for the shuttle to leave the station before the arrival of a Russian Soyuz rocket, which is set to launch on March 26.

The Discovery and its seven-person crew will deliver a final set of solar arrays and the last main truss for the space station. The installation of the components will enable NASA and its international partners to expand the station's crew from three to six astronauts later this year.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata is traveling aboard Discovery and will live aboard the station for several months. He replaces Sandy Magnus who will leave with Discovery when it returns to Earth in two weeks.

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