Space shuttle Discovery lit up the sky over Daytona Beach, Florida, this weekend in NASA’s first night launch since 2002.
After weather-related delays on December 7 and 8, the shuttleâ€”bound for the International Space Stationâ€”blasted off with a crew of seven from Kennedy Space Center at 8:47 p.m. ET on December 9.
NASA suspended night launches after the 2003 Columbia disaster in order to photograph shuttle fuel tanks in flight. Foam insulation from Columbia’s fuel tank damaged the shuttle’s left wing during liftoff, causing the spacecraft to overheat and disintegrate on reentry.
NASA managers said upgrades to the foam and new in-flight inspection procedures were sufficient to allow resumption of night flights.
During the mission crew members will install a new truss segment on the space station and convert its temporary electrical system to a new, permanent one. The electrical conversion will be highly complex, involving two spacewalks and relying on intricate choreography between the astronauts and ground control.Discovery is scheduled to return to Kennedy Space Center on December 21.