Thursday, March 10, 2011

With Space Shuttle Discovery's Final Landing, the End of an Era Begins

Yesterday, Space Shuttle Discovery landed for the final time at Kennedy Space Center, thus closing out its 39th and final mission of a career that began way back on August 30, 1984. When Discovery landed yesterday, the first of the last shuttle flights was completed. Now, back on Earth, Discovery will go in for a refurbishment that will prep the shuttle for its truly final mission as a main exhibit at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.

After Discovery landed for the first time, there was the customary press conference. Commenting on the ageless shuttle, mission commander Steve Lindsey stated that “if you think of a vehicle that’s 27 years old, you never see a vehicle that age that never comes back with no flaws, however Discovery did just that, she functioned flawlessly.” NASA chief Charles Bolden also went on to praise Discovery, saying that “Discovery is an amazing spacecraft and she has served her country well.”

Perhaps that was a bit of an understatement. Of all the space shuttles, Discovery is the most historic as its accomplishments read like a shopping list.

Visited two space stations (Russian Mir and the ISS)
Last shuttle to visit Mir
First shuttle to visit ISS and would make the most trips (13) there
First shuttle to retrieve satellite and bring it back to Earth
Was first in flight after both the Challenger and Columbia disasters
Launched the Hubble Space Telescope
Flew more flights, traveled more miles, and carried more astronauts into space than any other shuttle
First American spacecraft to take a foreigner, cosmonaut Sergei Kirkalev, into space
Featured first female pilot, Eileen Collins
Only shuttle to fly 4 times in a year
Featured first African American to walk in space
Flew 100th shuttle mission
Carried first sitting member of Congress into space
Took space legend John Glenn back into orbit at age 77

Needless to say, in 27 years of flight, Discovery did America proud.

Now, the focus at NASA is on the final two space shuttle missions. Endeavor, the youngest shuttle in the fleet, is set to launch for the last time in April while Atlantis, which was intended to have flown its final mission last year, will get one last ride into space come June.

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