Nighttime Blast off for Space Shuttle

Following postponement of the earlier launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery days ago due to local cloudy conditions, the seven member astronaut crew of STS mission 116 blasted off from Kennedy Space Center at 8:47 p.m. EST Saturday night December 9th, 2006, the first lift-off to take off at night in four years. After the doomed Columbia mission, daylight lift offs were mandatory to facilitate inspections of clear images of the shuttle’s external fuel tank.

When the shuttle docks to the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday afternoon, the crew will install the new P5 truss structure (to extend the existing truss or backbone of the ISS) and then begin electrical rewiring of the ISS to receive electricity from solar arrays – the ISS’ main energy source, requiring three spacewalks.

Additionally, German astronaut Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency who has lived aboard the ISS for the past five months will catch a ride home and in his place, mission specialist Sunita "Suni" Williams will stay to become a flight engineer for Expedition 14 for a six month stint.

The seven member "out-going" crew of Mission 116 is a diverse one in several aspects. Of the crew, which includes five rookie shuttle astronauts, two are Black, two are women, one is a Swede from the European Space agency, and one is of Indian descent.

See a photo of a previous launch of Discovery and of the Space Shuttle Atlantis as seen from the ISS, as well as aerial photographs of Cape Cod and San Diego taken from space on the previous shuttle mission.

For more information and updates, see NASA’s STS 116 Mission page.

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