March 15, 2009

Space shuttle Discovery lifts off

Seven astronauts headed toward the International Space Station following Sunday's launch of space shuttle Discovery at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The shuttled lifted off at 7:43 p.m. EDT.

The countdown proceeding apace after technicians repaired a gaseous hydrogen vent line, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said on its Web site. The final inspection team completed its check of the shuttle and pad, and there were no weather-related issues.

They've found no issues other than a sleeping bat that is hanging onto the external tank, NASA reported. The bat is not expected to interfere with launch this evening.

A small crowd assembled to wave to and cheer the STS-119 astronauts as they boarded a vintage silver Astrovan for the drive to the launch pad.

The shuttle crew is to install the last major set of solar arrays to the orbiting laboratory complex and crew member Koichi Wakata of Japan will switch from the shuttle to the station crew, while current station crew member Sandra Magnus takes Wakata's place on the Discovery crew, NASA said.