Science: On The Pad, Ready and Counting

Columbia is about to launch a new era in space travel

Dressed in space suits, the two men ride up the giant service tower, pause for a last briefing and with a chipper, thumbs-up wave climb into their spacecraft. The ship's three main engines roar to life, gulping supercold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen out of the huge silo-shaped fuel tank As the engines throttle to 90% of full power the spacecraft and tank bend ever so slightly. When they snap back, two solid-fuel rockets strapped to the silo's sides are ignited. Belching flame and...

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