It looked like a picture perfect shuttle launch on Monday, unless you were looking closely. Thinking I was in the Twilight Zone, I saw not one, but two pieces of debris falling from the shuttle during the minutes immediately after launch. Thankfully, so did NASA. After spotting debris falling about 102 seconds into the flight of Shuttle Atlantis, a closer look at the heat shield revealed a 21-inch scratch or gouge in the protective layer, stretching over 4 or 5 heat tiles. This is before they even get to the dangerous part of the mission.
This mission is particularly scary due to their plan to perform critical repairs of the Hubble telescope. Unfortunately, the orbit of the Hubble is in a debris-littered patch of space, and in case of emergency, the astronauts can't get to the international space station which is in a different orbit if something hits and damages the shuttle.
NASA's Mission Control isn't very worried about the nicks in the tiles, but they'll be looking at them again later in the mission. Another shuttle is in standby-mode on the launch pad in case this mission needs a rescue. How much risk would you be willing to take if you had scored a seat on the shuttle?
Now go watch them grab the Hubble on NASA TV.
UPDATE: Atlantis has made contact with the Hubble using its 50-foot-long boom arm. Check it out.