Space Shuttle Blasts Off With Lab Module and Toilet Pump

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- Space shuttle Discovery and a crew of seven blasted into orbit Saturday, carrying a giant Japanese lab addition to the international space station along with something more mundane -- a toilet pump.

The shuttle's trip to the space station should take two days. Once there, Discovery's crew will unload and install the $1 billion lab and hand-deliver a specially made pump for the outpost's finicky toilet.

The school-bus-size lab, named Kibo, Japanese for hope, will be the biggest room by far at the space station and bring the orbiting outpost to three-quarters of completion.

"It's a gorgeous day to launch," NASA's launch director, Mike Leinbach, told the astronauts just before liftoff, wishing them good luck and Godspeed. Commander Mark Kelly noted that Kibo was the "hope for the space station," then radioed: "Now stand by for the greatest show on Earth!"

The Japanese lab is 11 meters long and more than 14,515 kilograms, and fills Discovery's entire payload bay. The first part of the lab flew up in March, and the third and final section will be launched next year.

The entire lab, with all its pieces, cost more than $2 billion.

Everyone -- observers and professionals alike -- was relieved once Discovery safely reached orbit. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin noted that NASA had enjoyed "a number of good events" in recent days: The Phoenix Mars Lander survived its trip to the red planet last weekend and already has sent back pictures of what could well be ice.

Three spacewalks are planned during Discovery's 14-day flight, to install Kibo, replace an empty nitrogen-gas tank and try out various cleaning methods on a clogged solar-wing rotating joint.