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STS-121 Milestone Gallery:
Independence Day launch for Discovery

July 4, 2006 — Space Shuttle Discovery became the United States' first human space flight to launch on July 4th — Independence Day — as it lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:37:55 p.m. CDT.

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More photographs below.

Aboard Discovery is the STS-121 crew. Commanded by Steven Lindsey and piloted by Mark Kelly, the crew has five mission specialists: Michael Fossum, Lisa Nowak, Piers Sellers, Stephanie Wilson and Thomas Reiter from the European Space Agency.

The astronauts exited their crew quarters on their way to the launch pad waving small U.S. flags in recognition of the holiday. Reiter, the only non-American amongst them, clutched a small German banner instead.

"Steve, happy Fourth of July!" a launch controller told Lindsey, as the commander took his seat on Discovery.

"I cannot think of a better place to be here on the Fourth of July and on Independence Day to begin to launch," Lindsey radioed from Discovery just before the last hold in the countdown was released.

"We hope that very soon we give you an up close and personal look of the rockets red glare," said Lindsey.

During their planned 12-day mission, the STS-121 crew will dock with the International Space Station, where they will transfer supplies, conduct repairs and deliver Reiter, who will remain aboard the outpost for a five-month stay.

STS-121 will also test techniques for improving shuttle safety, including deploying an inspection boom with and without crewmembers attached. This is the second test flight planned by NASA after the 2003 Columbia accident.

STS-121 is the 115th space shuttle mission and the 32nd flight of Discovery.

Tuesday's launch followed two earlier attempts that were scrubbed on account of the weather. In addition, a faulty thermostat on one of Discovery's vernier thrusters and a small piece of external tank foam that was pried loose by ice were studied and cleared as being safe to fly.

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