Brilliant launch for shuttle Discovery

British-born astronaut Nick Patrick and his crewmates were woken from their first sleep in space by the Beatles today. Mission controllers at Houston played Here Comes The Sun over the shuttle Discovery’s radio at the start of a busy day for the team.

Launch of DiscoveryFellow astronaut Shannon Lucid, on the ground, said the song was picked to celebrate the brilliant night-time take-off of Mission STS-116 that lit up Florida on Saturday night – early today UK time.

She said: “We especially want to thank you for the burst of sunshine you brought into our lives last night. It was an awesome launch.”

Nick, 42, who was born at Saltburn, Teesside, later ran into problems when he extended a 50ft robot arm from the shuttle to inspect its heatshield for any damage.

The arm’s grip was failing to let go automatically but Nasa said Nick would be able to operate it manually by sending a few extra computer commands.

The examination, carried out to prevent a repeat of the Columbia disaster in 2003, was begun as the shuttle headed for its rendezvous tomorrow with the International Space Station, 220 miles above the Earth.

When Discovery reached orbit, space station commander Mike Lopez-Alegria called Houston and quipped: “We’re going to turn our porch light on so they can find us.”

Also on the 12-day mission to continue building the station is Sweden’s first astronaut, Christer Fuglesang of the European Space Agency. The rest of the crew are Commander Mark Polansky, Pilot Bill Oefelein and mission specialists Bob Curbeam, Joan Higginbotham and Sunita Williams.

A German astronaut, Thomas Reiter, will fly home on the shuttle after a six-month stay in space, to be replaced by Williams.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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