When the Space Shuttle Columbia burned up over the Texas skies two and a half years ago, the country's manned space program was plunged into despair. It was a tragedy, yet it was something NASA and the country had experienced before with Challenger.

That collective grief and frustration were lifted somewhat Tuesday morning when Discovery lifted off the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Discovery Commander Eileen Collins acknowledged the 14 fallen Columbia and Challenger astronauts. "We miss them and are continuing their mission. God bless them tonight and God bless their families," she said.

The setbacks of the shuttle program have been many in recent years. The launch was scrubbed two weeks ago after a fuel gauge problem. Safety concerns nearly prevented Tuesday's launch.

The linkup with the international space station today will help ratify the shuttle's mission as a re-useable craft capable of ferrying supplies and people into space. On its 12 day trip, it will also test new techniques for inspecting and patching the shuttle in orbit. That could prove critical as cameras noted some unidentified debris coming from the craft.

The shuttle is a great source of national pride. Tuesday's liftoff renewed our nation's determination to press ahead in the exploration of space. We wish them a good flight and a speedy journey home.

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