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Discovery launched on space station mission

  • Story Highlights
  • Space shuttle Discovery leaves on time Saturday for international space station
  • Discovery is bringing parts of Kibo, which will be the station's largest lab
  • The shuttle is also carrying supplies to repair a toilet in Zvezda service module
  • Discovery's fuel tank is first to incorporate post-Columbia safety changes
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- The space shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven launched into a sunny sky Saturday in the latest effort to bring supplies to the international space station.

"Obviously, a huge day for the space station partnership ... for all the people who hope to see space station come to fruition," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said after the launch.

The shuttle, which lifted off on time from Kennedy Space Center at 5:02 p.m., is transporting components for the Japanese Experiment Module, or Kibo science laboratory.

The billion-dollar Kibo, which means hope in Japanese, is Japan's first human space facility. Video Watch the shuttle soar into the sky »

More than 20 years in the making, the bus-sized, 32,000-pound module will be the largest lab at the space station.

"This is a big step for the Japanese community," mission specialist Akihito Hoshide told NASA-TV before the launch.

Discovery is also carrying the Japanese Remote Manipulator System, consisting of two robotic arms for operations outside the the lab. Each arm has six joints that mimic the movements of a human arm, according to NASA.

The crew, which includes five rookies, will install Kibo's large pressurized module, a giant sleeve that will help astronauts conduct gravity experiments and a robotic arm system. Video Watch the crew prepare for launch »

"There is going to be a lot of scientific discovery that comes out of this module," mission specialist Ron Garan told NASA-TV.

In March, the space shuttle Endeavour in March carried up the first part of the laboratory, which will serve as a storage area after being fully assembled. Kibo will be attached to its port side, according to NASA.

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At least one part of Discovery's cargo is less glamorous. The shuttle is bringing over parts for a problematic toilet aboard the space station, including a gas-liquid separator, urine collector bags and filters.

The toilet in the Zvezda service module is only partly functioning. Russian ground specialists are assisting the crew in troubleshooting the problem, NASA said.

At least five pieces of foam insulation fell off the fuel tank during liftoff after a timeframe that would indicate concern, NASA space operations chief Bill Gerstenmaier said.

Chunks of foam routinely fall off fuel tanks, though anything after the first two minutes and 15 seconds after launch is considered relatively normal.

Discovery's fuel tank was the first to incorporate all the safety changes instituted after the 2003 Columbia disaster.

The shuttle disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, after a large piece of insulation broke off its tank during launch and damaged the shuttle's thermal protection system.

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At the space station, the Expedition 17 crew is busy with maintenance and preparations.

A new station crew member, Greg Chamitoff, will arrive at the orbiting complex with the Discovery crew. He will switch places with Expedition 17 Flight Engineer Garrett Reisman, who is returning home on Discovery after a three-month stay on the outpost.

All About International Space StationSpace Shuttle Discovery

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