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Fri, Feb 25, 2011

Discovery Headed To ISS On Final Mission

Liftoff Came With Just Two Seconds To Spare In Launch Window

Space shuttle Discovery rode a brilliant trail of fire and smoke Thursday afternoon as it soared into orbit for an important mission to the International Space Station. The launch came after a last-minute technical glitch with the Air Force's Eastern Range that left only four seconds in the launch window and a practical limit of two seconds because of draining requirements with the external fuel tank.

"It was one more second than Mike Leinbach (shuttle launch director) needed to get the job done, so there was plenty of margin," said Mike Moses, chairman of the Mission Management Team. Still, he joked, "I could use a little less heart palpitations in the final seconds of the countdown."

Leinbach said launch simulations have conditioned the team of controllers to handle the pressures of last-second "go" decisions without jeopardizing a mission. "This was one for the record books," Leinbach said. "It may have seemed a little rushed to people on the outside. It's a testament to the team that we have practiced for this."

The launch of the shuttle was not the only thing to happen in space exploration on launch day. Just as Discovery's tank finished being fueled, a cargo-carrying Automated Transfer Vehicle from the Eurpoean Space Agency docked to the station. The spacecraft, which carried no people, launched from South America last week on an Ariane V.

"This is a pretty tremendous day in spaceflight for us," said Bll Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Space Operations. "For us to be sitting here today with both of these events occurring as they did is pretty amazing."



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