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Space Shuttle Discovery Lifts Off for Final Voyage

Photo Courtesy - NASA(HOUSTON) -- A crew of six veteran astronauts and one rookie robot blasted off from Earth aboard the space shuttle Discovery as it left on its final mission. Record crowds were on hand Thursday at Cape Canaveral, Fla., to witness Discovery's final flight, lowering the curtain on the space shuttle era.

Discovery is the most traveled spacecraft in history, beaming back spectacular imagery from the final frontier. The crew will rendezvous with the International Space Station on its 11-day mission.

Steve Lindsay, the commander of the Discovery mission, said he is "always struck" by how "powerful and beautiful" space is. "It is just overwhelming, that is the way it feels to me."

When Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot a shuttle -- it was aboard the Discovery. And from Discovery, Dr. Bernard Harris became the first African-American to walk in space.

At the Johnson Space Center in Houston, flight director Richard Jones looked back on the shuttle's career. It is a poignant time for the space agency -- the shuttle program is ending after 30 years. Jones said he is proud to be a part of Discovery's last flight.

"What I will look back on is that this mission was just one of many, many accomplishments and it was part of the shuttle era," Jones said.

Discovery's voyage will take it to the International Space Station, where it will add another module for storage and experiments, an exterior experiment platform and a robot -- the first humanoid robot in space -- to work inside the space station. Two spacewalks are scheduled for maintenance work.

It is the first space flight for the $2 million Robonaut, known as R2, which is tasked with showing how dexterous robots behave in space. The robot is made of aluminum, weighs 330 pounds, and is 3 feet 4 inches tall. To document its work, R2 will be tweeting at @AstroRobonaut.

When Discovery docks to the space station, the combined weight of the two spacecraft will equal one million points -- a space first.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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