The US space shuttle powers into orbit 10 times faster than a speeding bullet, reaching space just eight minutes and 40 seconds after lifting off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Seven astronauts will be propelled into space on Saturday aboard the Discovery shuttle for a mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Six seconds before the launch, the shuttle's three engines are fired up, followed by the two rocket boosters.
A 3.5-tonne force takes the spacecraft from zero to 28,968 kilometres per hour in a few minutes.
The shuttle, its pair of rocket boosters and huge external fuel tank weigh 2,053 tonnes.
The apparatus reaches 160 kph in eight seconds and speeds to 1,600 kph in less than a minute.
Two minutes after lift-off, the rocket boosters are jettisoned 45 kilometres above sea level as the shuttle flies at 4,800 kph.
The rockets deploy parachutes to slow their fall into the Atlantic 200 kilometres from the coast, where NASA boats fetch them to use them again.
The shuttle's three engines stay on during the eight minutes and 40 seconds it takes to reach orbit, consuming 1.9 million litres of fuel from the orange-hued external fuel tank.
The spacecraft burns the equivalent of a medium-sized swimming pool every 25 seconds.
The fuel consists of liquid hydrogen kept at a temperature of minus 252 C (minus 422 F) and liquid oxygen.
The hydrogen-oxygen mix can reach a temperature of 3.3 C (38 F) and produces steam that can be seen in the form of plumes of white smoke around the shuttle during lift-off.
Once in orbit, the shuttle's engines are shut down as it travels at eight kilometres per second. The external fuel tank is jettisoned and falls into earth's atmosphere where it disintegrates above the Pacific.
Free of its fuel tank and rockets, the shuttle weighs 121.5 tonnes after consuming 1,600 tonnes of fuel to reach orbit.
About 35 minutes later, two small engines to the left and right of the shuttle's tail are switched on to carefully manoeuvre the spacecraft toward the International Space Station.