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Special Event

Space Shuttle Discovery Launched Today

Aired March 8, 2001 - 6:40 a.m. ET


LINDA STOUFFER, CNN ANCHOR: We are just two minutes away now from the liftoff of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

JASON CARROLL, CNN ANCHOR: Among the seven-member crew, there are three people who will call the International Space Station their home for the next four to six months.

Joining us live from Kennedy Space Center to take us through all the final minutes before liftoff is CNN's space correspondent Miles O'Brien.

Good morning, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Jason and Linda.

And now T-minus one minute and 30 seconds to the expected launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery, its 29th mission.

I'm joined live here by astronaut John Harrington, who was a classmate with the pilot, Jim Kelly, joining the astronaut corp. at the same time.

John, just take us on board and give us an idea of what's going on in the countdown right now.

JOHN HARRINGTON, ASTRONAUT: Well, just recently, Jim -- or "Vegas," we call him -- just started the auxiliary power units. You can hear the little muffled noise of those burning. They're sitting back waiting, going through the process. The beanie cap on top has come off that -- where they vent the O2 (ph) out the top of the tank, so...

O'BRIEN: All right, good.

Less than a minute right now. Let's listen into NASA's Joel Wells, followed by Eileen Holly (ph), in Houston, as we watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery, on the eighth mission to the International Space Station, the first crew transfer.

JOEL WELLS, NASA: ... orbiter computers in a position to vent doors to launch configuration.

At T-minus 31 seconds, Discovery's onboard computers will have control of vehicle functions. T-minus 30 seconds.

Thousands of gallons of water will be dumped on the launch platform in a few seconds.

T-minus 12, 11, 10, nine, eight, seven -- go for main engine -- three, two.

Push to ignition.

Liftoff of Discovery and a team of explorers shaping their destiny.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the program isn't (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger. Roll, Discovery.

EILEEN HOLLY, NASA: Houston is now controlling. The roll maneuver is complete. The Discovery is now in a heads-down, weights- level position, carrying the next resident crew to the International Space Station.

Forty seconds into the flight.

Discovery's engines are now throttling down to 72 percent...


O'BRIEN: ... they literally pull back on the throttles. What point do they thrust back up?

HARRINGTON: They'll go through this for a little bit just past a minute. They'll go back up, and they'll throttle it back up about 104 percent.

O'BRIEN: At this point, the solid-rocket boosters, those twin boosters on the side, are doing most of the work, aren't they?

HARRINGTON: Yes, sir, yes. You get about 3.3 million pounds of thrust apiece for a solid rocket booster.

O'BRIEN: It's kind of a rough ride, I'm told, that first portion of it.

HARRINGTON: They say it's kind of a controlled train wreck, I'm told.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And they stay with them for the first two minutes of the flight.

HARRINGTON: About two minutes and five seconds, they'll fall away. Now the rockets will actually push them back, push them away from the orbiter.

That's fantastic.

O'BRIEN: Now, the crew right now is not feeling a tremendous amount of force on them or G force.


O'BRIEN: That comes later, right?

HARRINGTON: Gs build up towards the end of the launch, about eight minutes in the launch.

O'BRIEN: That's just fantastic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... range of Kennedy Space Center, at 17 miles.

O'BRIEN: So far, I haven't heard a thing that would indicate there is anything abnormal in the Space Shuttle Discovery right now.

And we're coming up on the solid rocket booster separation.

Look at that wide picture here, from the Cape: beautiful sight here, as dawn breaks at the Kennedy Space Center.

What are you seeing? It's a critical moment, isn't it, John?

HARRINGTON: This is the most dangerous part of the flight. Once the SRVs are gone, the ride gets a lot smoother, unless an accelerational starts to pick up. And the SRVs will go for about 35 nautical miles. They land about 120 or some miles downrange.

O'BRIEN: And just so viewers understand, when those solid rocket boosters are attached, the possibilities for an abort are pretty much nil. You have to ride those...

HARRINGTON: You'll ride those through SRVs, SRV set.

O'BRIEN: Like lighting a Roman candle. You can't turn it off.

Yes, but from now, if they lose an engine, there are a series of abort possibilities.

HARRINGTON: Right, correct. O'BRIEN: Either across the ocean or coming back here to the Kennedy Space Center.

HARRINGTON: That's correct. If they lose an engine right now, about into ten minutes and 30 seconds, they have a chance of coming back here -- and there's a little window: Of course, they can either come back here or go on across the ocean.

O'BRIEN: All right, John, we're going to say goodbye to our international viewers right now.

Two minutes and 58 seconds into the flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery, the eighth mission to the International Space Station, carrying aboard the second expeditionary crew, as they call it, the first Russian commander of the mission, Yuri Usachev. And we'll stay with CNN domestic for now and follow it up on its ascent a little bit farther.

Let's take a look at those live pictures from NASA television. It's amazing. Three minutes and 20 seconds after launch, John, what we have is, essentially, what appears to be maybe Venus on a clear night. It's just a dot.

HARRINGTON: At night, you can actually see the -- you can see the main engines as it goes just about over the horizon -- on a clear night. It's incredible.

O'BRIEN: As it comes across here, it's really heading in sort of a northeasterly track, and that's to match the orbit of the International Space Station Alpha, correct?

HARRINGTON: That's right. If you look at it, there's an inclination of about 51.6 degrees, where the equator right across would be zero degrees, pointing towards the pole would be 90 degrees. They're going off at about a 51.6 degree angle.

O'BRIEN: And just take us on board now. At four minutes in, they're starting to feel a lot more G forces on them, right?

HARRINGTON: People say it feels like somebody sitting on your chest once you get -- get going about eight minutes, eight minutes and 30 seconds into it. So they go from 3 Gs when the main engine's cut off -- you go from 3 Gs to zero Gs. You know, you feel that shift forward.

O'BRIEN: All right, they're about halfway uphill, as NASA astronauts like to say, eight minutes and 30 seconds before the main engine shutoff. And they unstrap, and all of a sudden, things start floating free, because they're in space.

We will be watching it for the next four minutes or so, make sure that everything is OK, and we'll get back to you if there's any problems, of course.

And stay with CNN all throughout this 12-day mission as we see the first crew transfer on the International Space Station Alpha -- Linda, Jason.

CARROLL: Thanks very much.

STOUFFER: Miles O'Brien, thank you very much. And it was a beautiful uphill climb, half in dark, half in light. It really was just lovely.



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