Posted: 24 Feb 2011 06:26 PM PST
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida,Space shuttle Discovery blasted off for the last time yesterday, carrying six astronauts and carting a load of supplies, spare parts and a robot for the International Space Station.
The shuttle lifted off at 4.53pm EST (9.53pm GMT) from the Kennedy Space Centre, riding a flame-tipped pillar of smoke across the Atlantic Ocean as it soared through partly cloudy skies towards space.
The launch was delayed three minutes owing to a glitch with a range safety computer. The problem was resolved with seconds to spare.
"This was one for the record books," said launch director Mike Leinbach.
Discovery's fuel tank shed at least four pieces of insulating foam during the climb to orbit, but none posed a threat to the ship, Nasa, the National Aeronautical and Space Administration, said.
The agency has been concerned about foam debris since the disintegration of shuttle Columbia on re-entry in 2003 owing to damage from a piece of falling insulation during lift-off.
Discovery's launch was the 133rd in the 30-year-old shuttle programme, with up to two flights remaining before the United States retires its three-ship fleet later this year.
Discovery made 39 of those flights, including both return-to-flight missions following the fatal Challenger and Columbia accidents, and delivering the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit.
"I think what will be most difficult will be on landing day when we know that that's the end of her mission, completely," Leinbach said.
The shuttles are being retired owing to high operational costs and to free up money to develop new vehicles capable of travelling beyond the space station's orbit.
Discovery is carrying a storage room, an external platform for spare parts and a prototype humanoid robot for the space station, a US$100 billion (RM304.2 billion) project of 16 nations nearing completion after more than a decade of construction 354km above the Earth.
The mission had been on hold since November to fix problems with the shuttle's fuel tank.
Engineers repaired and reinforced thin metal support beams inside the tank, several of which had cracked when the ship was fuelled for a launch attempt on November 5 and during a follow-up tanking test in December.
Similar modifications are planned for the fuel tanks being prepared for the final shuttle flights. — Reuters
Posted: 24 Feb 2011 05:12 PM PST
In a drama reminiscent of American mountaineer Aron Ralston's use of a pocket blade to sever his own arm after being trapped by a boulder, Dr Stuart Philip said there was no choice but to use a Swiss knife or the man would have died.
"There wasn't really any other option," Philip told the Dominion Post newspaper. "Essentially the procedure was performed with a Swiss Army knife. I know that sounds terrible, but that's all we had."
Philip, a New Zealand-born urologist based in Australia, had been in the city for a medical conference when the 6.3 magnitude quake hit, killing 113 people and with hundreds more still missing.
He said he helped another woman doctor perform the operation underneath the collapsed Pyne Gould Corporation building after crawling through the rubble for more than five hours in a desperate search for survivors.
The woman doctor operated on the 52-year-old man, known only as Brian, because she was small enough to fit into the tiny space around him.
A builder eventually turned up with a hacksaw, which helped complete the amputation procedure, Philip said. An anaesthetist had also been on hand to help with pain relief, but had not had the equipment to stop the agony of the operation completely.
More than 250 doctors and nurses had been in Christchurch for a urological surgery conference, with many rushing to help people trapped and injured in the quake.
"At one stage when we were having aftershocks and the rubble was falling, we weren't sure if we were going to make it out alive," Philip said.
Photographs of many of the missing covered front pages of local newspapers today, a day after authorities began releasing names of people they said they had grave fears about.
Streets across the country, including in the capital Wellington, have been relatively quiet since the quake as people stay home to watch the still-unfolding rescue, and with searchers still arriving from across the world.
Friends posted messages of tribute on Facebook pages as hopes faded that anyone could still be alive as the rescue effort entered its fourth day.
"I will never forget our road trip across Europe where you took on a huge 18-wheeler truck with our little minivan," wrote a woman named only as Tina on the page of 41-year Melissa Neale. "What a trip! The great memories will never fade. RIP my gorgeous little Hobbit." — Reuters
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