CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Discovery and seven astronauts blasted into orbit Tuesday on America’s first manned space shot since the 2003 Columbia disaster, ending a painful, 2 1/2-year shutdown devoted to making the shuttle less risky and NASA more safety-conscious.

At stake were not only the lives of the astronauts, but also America’s pride in its technological prowess, the fate of the U.S. space program and the future of space exploration itself.

“Our long wait may be over. So on behalf of the many millions of people who believe so deeply in what we do, good luck, Godspeed _ and have a little fun up there,” launch director Mike Leinbach told the astronauts just before liftoff.

My daughter, who has dreams of being a pioneer to Mars, likes the idea that the first Shuttle mission after this long wait, and thus a rather sensitive and scrutinized mission, is a woman. So do I.

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