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July 4, 2006 | 3:58 p.m. ET

Watching America soar (Ann Curry, NBC News, as posted on the 'Daily Nightly' blog)

Maybe it's because it's the Fourth of July. Maybe it's because it's been awhile since we've seen a shuttle launch.  Probably it's because we in America have heard so much bad news of late.  Whatever the reason, it was thrilling to watch Discovery's successful rise into the heavens, accelerating from 0 to more than 17,000 miles-an-hour in just eight-and-a-half seconds this afternoon.

Nerves of steel is what it must have taken for the seven astronauts to endure such a ride, not just because of the roar, but because of the incessant debate about whether foam would jeopardize the safety of their flight. Two top NASA officials had voted "no go" for launch, and that was before a small triangular piece of foam fell off one of the brackets holding the external fuel tank.

Preparing for the NBC News Special Report to show America the historic launch, the first on Independence day, I read a quote from NASA Administrator Michael Griffin that may give pause. On Friday, he said, "We are playing with the odds." He said balancing the dangers of another accident with the pressure to keep to a schedule that could shut down the shuttle program in 2010 is "What you pay us for as taxpayers. It's called risk management."

Taking this risk in these trouble times, on this day we celebrate our nation's birth, took both confidence and courage. But then, I suppose without the risk, maybe it would not have felt as good today, to watch America soar.


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