Associated Press / NASA TV

I’ve been known to bad-mouth the shuttle in these parts — mostly a tough love thing — but I gotta admit that I got a little choked up to see it leap off the pad this morning. Bravo, NASA.

Eileen Collins and the crew had what looked like a flawless ascent. CNN noted that her voice before the solid boosters peeled off was shaky, but c’mon she’s on top of 6.6 million pounds of thrust. Like trying to have a phone conversation sitting on the roof of a locomotive.

NASA’s launch announcer always has a brief prepared tag line right when the countdown goes from minus to plus. This time he said “… beginning America’s new journey to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.” This is interesting because none of that journey involves the shuttle. NASA is looking forward, so much so that they used the return to space of the shuttle to reaffirm its retirement. I like this.

And the camera on the external tank! I’ve seen other launches from this angle, but never from the shuttle. That was damn cool. I’m scrounging for footage of the separation of the tank from the orbiter — something no one had ever seen previously. Amazing how smooth that was and to see the orbiter engines direct it to orbit.

No word on the fuel sensor gauge, but, as a friend who had a flaky gauge on his Wagoneer noted, the key is just to jot down your mileage as you tank up. Isn’t that what mission specialists are for?