Space Shuttle Discovery returns home for the last time


The space shuttle Discovery has ended a three decade career. Yesterday it returned from orbit for the last time and prepared to take on a new role as a museum piece.

When they landed for the last time at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, the world’s most flown spaceship and its six-astronaut crew ended a 13-day journey that covered more than five million miles. The Discovery has flown 39 missions, spent 365 days in space, orbited Earth 5 830 times and travelled 148,221,675 miles during its 27 year long career. It is the longest serving spaceship of NASA’s space shuttle fleet.
“To the ship that has led the way time and time again, we say, ‘Farewell Discovery’,” declared Mission Control commentator Josh Byerly.
“Discovery is an amazing spacecraft and she has served her country well,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “The success of this mission and those that came before it is a testament to the diligence and determination of everyone who has worked on Discovery and the Space Shuttle Program, over these many years. As we celebrate the many accomplishments of this magnificent ship, we look forward to an exciting new era of human spaceflight that lies ahead.”

Steve Lindsey commanded the flight and was joined by Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott. Lindsey was the last of the six crewmembers to climb out of the shuttle and said it was an emotional struggle to leave the cockpit.

During its final mission Discovery delivered the Pressurized Multipurpose Module, or PMM, which can host experiments in fluid physics, materials science, biology, biotechnology and other areas, NASA says.

The Discovery mission also brought critical spare components and the Express Logistics Carrier 4 to the International Space Station (ISS). Robonaut 2, or R2, became the first human-like robot in space and a permanent resident of the station. In addition, the mission’s two spacewalks assisted in outfitting the truss of the ISS and completed a variety of other tasks designed to upgrade station systems.

Now that it has been retired, Discovery will be put on display at the Smithsonian Institution in several months time, as soon as engineers remove the three main engines, plumbing and hazardous fuels. They will also remove some parts of the shuttle to study them for future spacecraft. The Discovery will be transported to the Smithsonian aboard the top of a specially configured Boeing 747.

Discovery flew after the Columbia and Challenger and racked up a number of important achievements. It dispatched the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, flew the first shuttle rendezvous to Russia’s Mir space station and carried the first female shuttle pilot into space in 1995, and in 1998 gave another ride into space to John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.

The last two remaining Space Shuttles will also stop flying this year, with Endeavour due to blast off on April 19, and Atlantis on June 28. To fill the gap created by the Space Shuttle’s departure, NASA will fly its payloads into space aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft until private enterprises are able to put its payloads in orbit.