CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - After two weather delays and last-minute foam trouble, Discovery and a crew of seven blasted off today on the first shuttle launch in a year, flying over objections from those within NASA who argued for more fuel-tank repairs.
The majestic shot NASA's first on Independence Day was only the second shuttle flight since the Columbia was brought down 3 1/2 years ago by a chunk of insulation foam breaking off the fuel tank.
The foam problem resurfaced during last July's flight of Discovery and again Monday, keeping the space agency debating safety all the way up to the eve of liftoff.
Discovery thundered away from its seaside pad at 2:38 p.m.
Commander Steven Lindsey, an Air Force fighter pilot, was at the controls and aiming for a linkup in two days with the international space station. Earlier, he and his crew waved small American flags on their way to the rocketship.
"Discovery's ready, the weather's beautiful, America is ready to return the space shuttle to flight. So good luck and Godspeed, Discovery," launch director Mike Leinbach said just before liftoff.
"I can't think of a better place to be here on the Fourth of July," radioed Lindsey. "For all the folks on the Florida east coast, we hope to very soon get you an up-close and personal look at the rocket's red glare."
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