NASA's Plea: Help!

The shuttle finally flew, but the beleaguered U.S. space agency still needs a boost from its old rivals the Russians

The fiery, Jupiter-bright object that flashed across moonlit skies from Florida to New York early last Thursday morning was neither star nor planet nor UFO. It was the space shuttle Discovery putting on a spectacular light show on its way into orbit for eight days of atmospheric research. The successful -- at last! -- launch was a big relief for NASA. Two days earlier, Discovery's countdown was halted 11 seconds before lift-off because of a faulty computer circuit. Two weeks before that miscue, a mission by sister shuttle Columbia was scrubbed just three seconds before launch, after a valve got stuck....

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