The shuttle will deliver supplies, equipment and a new crew member to the International Space Station. Inside the shuttle's cargo bay is the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, a pressurized "moving van" that will be temporarily installed to the station. The module will deliver storage racks; materials and fluids science racks; a freezer to store research samples; a new sleeping compartment; an air purification system; and a treadmill named after comedian Stephen Colbert.
The name "Colbert" received the most entries in NASA's online poll to name the station's Node 3. NASA named the node Tranquility.
Shortly before liftoff, Commander Rick Sturckow said, "Thanks to everyone who helped prepare for this mission. Let's go step up the science on the International Space Station!"
The 13-day flight will include three spacewalks to replace experiments outside the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory, install a new ammonia storage tank and return the used one.
Ammonia is needed to move excess heat from inside the station to the radiators located outside.
Sturckow is joined on the STS-128 mission by Pilot Kevin Ford, Mission Specialists Pat Forrester, Jose Hernandez, Danny Olivas and European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang.
NASA astronaut Nicole Stott will fly to the complex aboard Discovery to begin a three-month mission as a station resident. She replaces NASA's Tim Kopra, who will return home on Discovery.
Ford, Hernandez and Stott are first-time space fliers. The mission marks the start of the transition from assembling the space station to using it for continuous scientific research.
Assembly and maintenance activities have dominated the available time for crew work. As completion nears, additional facilities and the crew members to operate them will enable a measured increase in time devoted to research as a national and multinational orbiting laboratory.
Discovery's first landing opportunity at Kennedy is scheduled for Thursday, September 10. This mission is the 128th space shuttle flight, the 30th to the station, the 37th for Discovery and the fourth in 2009.
Image: The space shuttle Discovery lifts off on Mission STS-128 to the International Space Station from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral
Photograph: Scott Audette / Reuters