Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off at Kennedy Space Center, carrying seven crew members on a 14-day mission to the International Space Station. ((John Raoux/Associated Press))

The space shuttle Discovery blasted off without major problems Saturday, carrying a Montreal-born astronaut and badly needed plumbing supplies to the International Space Station, where the zero-gravity toilet has partly broken down.

A piece of protective foam broke away from the craft during the liftoff but was not immediately considered to present a danger.

The Canadian-born astronaut, Gregory Chamitoff, 45, is to stay on the station for six months, replacing a fellow American astronaut as flight engineer. It is his first trip in space.

Now a U.S. citizen, Chamitoff was born in Montreal but educated mainly in California, Massachusetts and Texas, earning as Ph.D in aeronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1998. He began training as an astronaut in 1998.

"My whole family’s from Montreal, although a generation before that, they’re from Russia," he said in an interview posted on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration website.


Montreal-born astronaut Gregory Chamitoff waves as he leaves for the launch pad Saturday in Cape Canaveral, Fla. ((Chris O'Meara/Associated Press))

"I grew up, basically through most of elementary school, there. We actually moved around a little bit there, too, but we left when I was 11 and I never went back until I was 22."

The problem with the space station's $19-million toilet highlights one of the less glamorous parts of space travel. The part that broke is responsible for capturing and containing urine without gravity.

The shuttle — launched just after 5 p.m. from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. — is making an emergency delivery of spare parts.

It is also bringing a $1-billion Japanese space lab that will form part of the station.