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Sunday, 10 December 2006 08:01

Space Shuttle Discovery safely reaches orbit

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The Space Shuttle Discovery has safely reached orbit after NASA's first night time shuttle launch in four years.

The shuttle lifted off at 8:47 pm EST Saturday (12:47 pm AEDT Sunday), the seven astronauts having spent two and a half hours sealed in the shuttle during the final countdown. High winds and poor weather had put the launch in doubt earlier in the day.
 
Discovery's first launch attempt was aborted at the last minute on Thursday due to low level cloud that would have obscured the view of the external fuel tank during ascent. NASA closely monitors the fuel tank during a shuttle launch, as foam breaking off the tank caused the damage that lead to the death of Columbia's seven astronauts.
 
The STS-116 mission is the 33rd for Discovery and the 117th space shuttle flight. The primary goal of the 12 day mission is to rewire the International Space Station's electrical and cooling systems. The seven astronauts are also delivering a 2-ton addition to the station and replacing one of the station's three crew members.
 
Discovery is scheduled to return to Earth on Thursday December 21, landing at the Kennedy Space Center. NASA engineers are keen to have the ship and crew safely on the ground before New Years Day, as the shuttle's navigation software is not designed to handle the new year roll over.

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