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The space shuttle Discovery is safely off

The Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on mission STS-121 Tuesday, July 4, 2006. It was the third attempt at a launch since Saturday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

[UPDATE (11 PM): Debris falling from shuttle after liftoff caught on tape.]

Just watched it; I don’t know how those astronauts put their lives into the hands of NASA, given the serious problems this program has had.

The majestic shot — NASA’s first on Independence Day — was only the second shuttle flight since the Columbia was brought down 3 1/2 years ago by a chunk of insulation foam breaking off the fuel tank.

The foam problem resurfaced during last July’s flight of Discovery and again Monday, keeping the space agency debating safety all the way up to the eve of liftoff.

…A slice of foam, no bigger than a crust of bread, fell off an expansion joint on Discovery’s external fuel tank following Sunday’s delay. Shuttle managers concluded Monday night after intensive engineering analysis that the remaining foam on that part of the tank was solid.

Their drive to go into space clearly supercedes any fear of incompetence of mere mortals on the ground and limitations of our technology. May they return safely.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding