Discovery lifts off in one of NASA’s final orbiter missions

Space shuttle Discovery roared into orbit Monday, curving over the horizon just before sunrise as it headed out on one of NASA’s final orbiter missions to the International Space Station.

The liftoff leaves three remaining launches as the agency races to stock the space station before the fleet is retired this year.

Discovery is carrying 8 tons of cargo and science equipment for the station’s laboratories. The 13-day mission, dubbed the Experiment Express, has three planned spacewalks to install a fresh ammonia tank assembly for the lab’s coolant system and retrieve a Japanese experiment from the station’s exterior.

Commanded by Navy Capt. Alan Poindexter, the crew includes rookie pilot James Dutton, flight engineer Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki and veteran spacewalkers Richard Mastracchio and Clayton Anderson.

It is the last shuttle flight to have a crew of seven. And with three female astronauts aboard Discovery and another, Tracy Caldwell Dyson, aboard the station, the mission marks the first time four women will be in space at once.

Shortly before Discovery blasted off, the space station could be seen moving across the predawn skies above Kennedy Space Center like a shimmering star.

Mike Moses, NASA shuttle integration manager, said there were a few glitches with some of Discovery’s monitors but nothing that indicated any problems.