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1988: Shuttle blasts US back into space

VIDEO : Nasa back in space with Discovery

The United States has successfully launched its first manned space mission since the Challenger disaster two and a half years ago.

The space shuttle, Discovery, lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 1637 BST after a 90-minute delay due to unsuitable weather conditions.

Half a million people in the streets around the Kennedy Space Center watched the take-off, which Nasa said went without a hitch.

The primary objective of the five-man crew commanded by Frederick Hauck is to launch a communications satellite - a replacement for one lost when Challenger exploded.

Tension

But the successful completion of the four-day mission is also crucial for the future of America's space programme and the nation's prestige.

The tension in the space centre's control room increased as the take-off was delayed after weather reports said winds in the upper atmosphere were too light.

But relief began to set in after the shuttle flight passed the psychological barrier of 73 seconds - the time after launch when Challenger was lost.

"I'm just glad to see us going again - it's important not only from a supply for the space station aspect but means we can get on doing the research we're supposed to," Senator John Glenn told the BBC.

US President Ronald Reagan - who watched the launch from the White House - announced he was delighted with the achievement.

"America is back in space! We're now looking forward to the successful completion of the Discovery mission and the safe return of her five-member crew," he said.

In Context
Discovery landed safely at Edwards Air Force base, California, four days later.

The crew on mission STS-26 were commander Frederick Hauck, Richard Covey, John Lounge, George Nelson, and David Hilmers.

Space shuttle research began in 1972 and Columbia was launched in 1981 - the world's first reusable space vehicle.

But the programme was vastly more expensive than expected and the shuttles never flew the 40 missions a year Nasa hoped they would.

The loss of Challenger and its seven crew in 1986 almost derailed the entire project but it continued after the success of the 1988 Discovery flight.


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