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Shuttle Columbia Roars Into Space--and History

<i> From Reuters</i>

Space shuttle Columbia blasted into space early today on the first American spaceflight commanded by a woman.

Columbia was launched at 12:31 a.m. EDT with Air Force Col. Eileen Collins, 42, at the helm. Two earlier launch attempts were halted late in the countdown: on Tuesday because of a technical glitch and on Thursday because of stormy weather.

“We have a liftoff, reaching new heights for women and astronomy,” said Mission Control at the Kennedy Space Center as the shuttle rose into the night sky.

As the spacecraft raced into orbit at more than 8,000 mph, Collins was in charge of the shuttle from her post in the forward portside seat of the flight deck--the commander’s seat always occupied by men on past launches.

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“It’s great to be back in zero-G again,” Collins radioed.

NASA took 38 years to put a woman in charge of a spaceflight. The Soviet Union launched a woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into orbit aboard a one-person Vostok spacecraft in 1963, but she was not allowed to take the controls, as male cosmonauts were.

Collins was joined in the crew cabin by pilot Jeffrey Ashby and mission specialists Steven Hawley, Cady Coleman and Michel Tognini, a French astronaut.

Their mission is to launch the four-story Chandra X-Ray Observatory from Columbia’s cargo bay about seven hours into the voyage. The $1.5-billion, 50,000-pound science satellite and its two-stage booster rocket are the heaviest payload ever put aboard a shuttle.

This was NASA’s last chance to launch Columbia until mid- to late August because of maintenance needed on the launch facilities.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, her daughter Chelsea and members of the U.S. women’s world champion soccer team were present for the first two launch attempts but not for today’s liftoff.


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