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Shuttle Discovery on final flight

Shuttle Discovery on final flight
NASA's Space Shuttle "Discovery" launches on its final mission, STS 133, at 4:53 PM from Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on February 24, 2011. Carrying the Multipurpose Logistics Module and the Express Logistics Carrier #4 to the International Space Station, Discovery and her crew will conduct an eleven day mission to complete construction of decade old outpost. UPI/Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell | License Photo

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Feb. 24 (UPI) -- NASA's space shuttle Discovery lifted into space Thursday on its final mission, 11 days that will crown a busy and eventful 27 years of duty, officials said.

Discovery launched at 4:53 p.m. EST from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the space agency said.

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A last-minute glitch in a range-safety computer almost threatened to abort the launch but was fixed just minutes before lift-off, SPACE.com reported.

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NASA said a record crowd, estimated at 40,000, watched to orbiter's launch.

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"For those watching, get ready to witness the majesty and the power of the shuttle Discovery as she lifts off one more time," mission commander Steve Lindsey radioed from the crew cabin minutes before launch.

Crew members include Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott and Steve Bowen.

Bowen replaces astronaut Tim Kopra, scratched from the flight after being injured in a bicycle accident Jan. 15. Kopra is a U.S. Army colonel who was a space station flight engineer on a 2009 Discovery flight.

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Discovery will deliver critical supplies to the International Space Station, including hardware, a storage module and a humanoid robot assistant called Robonaut 2, a first in space. The shuttle is expected to dock with the space station Saturday afternoon.

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Two spacewalks are also planned to perform routine station maintenance, NASA said.

After it returns to Earth, Discovery will take up residence at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, The Washington Post said. The museum holds the world's largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft.

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NASA has two more shuttle launches set after Discovery. Endeavour -- whose crew includes astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot Jan. 8 -- and Atlantis. Endeavour is scheduled for liftoff April 19. Atlantis is scheduled for June 28.

After the fleet is retired, NASA will no longer launch shuttles due to budget cuts. Astronauts flying to and from the space station will use the Russian space program's Soyuz capsule.

For the first time on this Discovery flight, NASA let the public choose two songs the astronauts will hear when they wake up. NASA said it got more than 2.4 million votes and will announce the top two vote-getters during the mission.

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In the past, songs were often chosen by astronaut family members.

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