NASA's most traveled space shuttle safely took off for its 39th, and final, mission Thursday.
The 27-year-old Discovery carried six astronauts into space Thursday afternoon as crowds cheered. Two more shuttle missions are planned before the entire program comes to an end.
"Good to be here," Discovery Commander Steve Lindsey radioed soon after reaching orbit, according to NASA.
Although the launch looked smooth, foam could be seen falling off in television coverage of the liftoff. Damage from broken off foam insulation was blamed for the 2003 Columbia disaster, in which all seven astronauts died.
House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Ralph Hall, R-Texas, joined several members of his committee in traveling to Florida's Kennedy Space Center to witness Discovery's final launch.
"Our nation's Shuttle Program has been a point of pride for the last 30 years, ferrying astronauts into earth orbit to build and utilize the International Space Station, and launching a multitude of scientific satellites that have expanded our knowledge of the universe," said Hall, who added the "space" to the panel's name after taking over the chairmanship at the beginning of the year. "The Space Shuttle is a truly remarkable capability that will be missed after it is retired."
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