CAPE CANAVERAL -- Space shuttle Discovery is chasing the International Space Station after lifting off for its final mission.
The six astronauts will spend Friday surveying their ship for signs of launch damage. Several pieces of foam insulation broke off Discovery's fuel tank. But NASA says it happened late enough in Thursday's launch to pose no safety concern. All the same, commander Steven Lindsey and his crew will use a 100-foot boom to inspect the vulnerable wings and nose.
Discovery -- NASA's most traveled spaceship -- will reach the orbiting lab Saturday.
On Thursday, the final flight of Discovery thundered away under a blue sky, sending physical and emotional tremors through a spellbound audience from around the country and world.
The 39th flight of NASA’s most-flown shuttle is supposed to last 11 days.
Among the items being transported to the space station is Robonaut 2, known as R2. Although officials with NASA said the primary job for the humanoid-like robot will be demonstrating its dexterity in space, an upgraded model could one day help spacewalkers make repairs or additions to the station or perform scientific work.
The shuttle is scheduled to land back at the Kennedy Space Center at 11:50 a.m. March 7.
The launch almost was a no-go because of what was described as a minor problem with a remote computer display.
Officials were holding at the five-minute mark and there was only four seconds left in that hold before the flight would supposedly have been called off until the next day.
The word that the flight was a go brought cheers from those watching inside the media center.
The launch itself elicited an even bigger cheer from the crowd at the Kennedy Space Center as the shuttle lifted off amidst clouds of smoke.
Crowds also cheered at Nicol Park in Port St. John, where people from around the country and world watched the flight take off.
Victor Fisher, 49, traveled all the way from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to view the flight from the park.
He arrived in Orlando early Thursday morning and with a return flight the next morning.
"It was worth it," said Fisher of the experience. "It was awesome."
Fisher who has a radio show in Alaska called "Tech Talk" said he used 65,000 accumulated air miles in making the trip. He plans to return, but with a little more planning next time.
Gov. Rick Scott was among those who traveled to Kennedy Space Center for the flight. Scott spoke briefly about the impact the flight had on attracting tourists to the state.
The six astronauts on board, all experienced space fliers, were thrilled to be on their way after a delay of nearly four months for fuel tank repairs.
Discovery is the oldest of NASA's three surviving space shuttles and the first to be decommissioned this year. Two missions remain, first by Atlantis and then Endeavour, to end the 30-year program.
NASA is under presidential direction to retire the shuttle fleet this summer, let private companies take over trips to orbit and focus on getting astronauts to asteroids and Mars.
Discovery is expected to be eventually put on display by the Smithsonian Institution.
Staff writer Ed Bierschenk contributed to this report.