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Fuglesang lifts off

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Fuglesang lifts off
10:20 CEST+02:00
After three previous attempts this week, the Discovery space shuttle has finally blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida with Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang and six Americans on board. This is Fuglesang's second space mission.

The launch went according to plan and after eight minutes the Discovery was orbiting the earth.

“It was an extemely memorable moment to be able to see Christer step into the clouds on the warm August night in Florida. The ground vibrated from the power released from the enormous rockets. Everything went really well,” Olle Norberg, general director of the Swedish National Space Board (Rymdstyrelsen) told TT.

Norberg, who was at Kennedy Space Center for takeoff, was happy that Fuglesang will once again be able to see the International Space Station (ISS).

“It's great for Christer to be able to come to ISS and see it almost finished. It has been three years since he was last there.”

Fuglesang's first space mission was in 2006.

The Swedish delegation celebrated the occasion with the traditional meal that is eaten every time a shuttle is sent up – baked beans and corn bread.

“The atmosphere here at Kennedy Space Center is really great. The stress is totally gone,” Norberg said.

This is NASA's 128th space mission. The Discovery will deliver equipment and necessities to ISS during its 13-day journey. Three space walks are scheduled and Fuglesang will take part in two.

The Discovery is scheduled to dock at ISS on Sunday night.

This wasn't the first time Fuglesang and the other six crew members had strapped themselves into the shuttle this week. Tuesday's first attempt was cancelled shortly before liftoff when weather conditions were deemed too dangerous, and two subsequent attempts were thwarted by problems with a liquid hydrogen fill-and-drain valve.

NASA engineers eventually discovered that the problem was caused by false instrument readings and devised a method of determining if the valve was properly closed in case the instruments malfunction again.

The process of filling the shuttle's external tank with nearly two million liters (500,000 gallons) of liquid hydrogen and oxygen began at 2:45 pm (1845 GMT) after a slight delay due to stormy weather near the launch site.

The Discovery is carrying seven tonnes of equipment to ISS. In addition to the seven crew members, there are also six mice on board the space shuttle. Three of them have manipulated genes to be used in research related to the loss of bone mass, in hopes of finding new treatments for treatment of bone brittleness.

In the hours leading up to takeoff, Fuglesang wrote several messages on Twitter. In his final post, sent around five hours before takeoff, he wrote:

"T-4:50 Ate my hamburger. We get dressed in 20 minutes. 'Signing off' again and hope to be back online in 2 weeks (and not before :-) )."

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