The Liberty Star and the Freedom Star, recovery ships owned by Morton Thiokol, were cruising Friday across the Atlantic Ocean with two solid rocket boosters in tow. The boosters did what engineers hoped - safely lifted the shuttle Discovery into space.

The boosters were recovered almost immediately after the launch about 120 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral, where Discovery took off in the first shuttle flight in nearly three years."The cabin's a little warm," said flight director Charles Shaw. "These guys all live in Houston so they're used to that temperature. That's kind of a cool day here in Houston."

Preliminary information from the launch showed the boosters' performance mirrored engineers' predictions.

"The real inspection will occur when they bring them up Port Canaveral and put them in the hangar" at the Kennedy Space Center, said Morton Thiokol engineer Allan McDonald. The boosters are expected to arrive back in Cape Canaveral late Friday or Saturday.

Detailed analysis of the boosters will take about six weeks, "which is about the time we fly again," said Gerald Smith, solid rocket booster redesign manager.

McDonald went through torture after the last shuttle launch in January 1986. The en gineer sat in the firing room in which shuttle flights are directedand watched the Challenger explode.

But this launch was a pleasure to watch.

"I'm clearly elated it came out like it did," McDonald said Thursday following Discovery's flight, which returned the United States to the business of space exploration.

McDonald was one of the Utah engineers who warned against launching Challenger, citing concerns about the ability of O-ring seals in the solid rocket boosters to perform in the sub-freezing temperatures.

The reserved man was haunted by the disaster and hunted by reporters for quotes as the investigation into the destruction of the orbiter began.

"This is nearly 33 months later," the engineer said as NASA officials finished giving a glowing report of the launch.

"The last time I sat at that console is burned in my memory," said McDonald

The explosion halted manned space flights and brought management from NASA and contractor companies to the front pages. The nation grieved for the seven astronauts and mourned for the lost confidence in the space program.

Thursday's flight reaffirmed American ingenuity and the ability of dreamers to come through in the quest to explore space.

It also made McDonald feel pretty good.

A crowd of reporters, NASA employees and contractors gathered at a site three miles from the launch pad to watch the liftoff. More than a million people jockeyed for positions to see the launch.

The cheers began when the shuttle lifted off, quieted while spectators counted the seconds until the boosters separated, and began again when the craft's main engines took over.

"I felt very good about that," said McDonald, who oversaw the solid rocket booster redesign program ordered by a presidential commission after Challenger'sdemise.

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