more than 30 successful missions,
more than any other
orbiter in NASA's
fleet. Courtesy of
THE FINAL MISSION
After more than 30 trips to outer space, NASA retires space shuttle Discovery
By Joshua Siegel
After spending 365 days in space over the course of a 27-year
career, the space shuttle Discovery has landed for the final time
and will now make its home inside the walls of the Smithsonian
Institution in Washington, D.C.
The shuttle, which completed more successful missions than
any other orbiter — 39 — was the first of NASA's fleet to be retired
after its final mission was completed with a smooth touchdown at
Kennedy Space Center on March 11, 2011.
"We wanted to go out on a high note, and Discovery has done
it," launch director Mike Leinbach said to the Houston Chronicle.
"We couldn't ask for any more. It was virtually a perfect mission."
On its final voyage, Discovery dropped off a storage room and
a humanoid robotic assistant, Robonaut 2, to the International
Discovery was the third operational orbiter launched by NASA,
following Challenger and Columbia.
After the tragedies that befell both of the older shuttles,
Discovery flew the "Return to Flight" missions following each.
The completion of missions by NASA's two youngest orbiters,
Atlantis and Endeavour, will signal the end of the three-decade run
of the Space Shuttle program with Discovery being its most prolific
"We're seeing a program come to a close here, and to see
these shuttles, these beautiful, magnificent flying machines, end
their service life is obviously a little bit sad for us," Astronaut and
M.D. Michael Barratt said to the New York Times.
"But it is about time — they've lived a very long time, they've
had a fabulous success record."
Discovery carried Senator Jake Garn (R-Utah) during its week-
long mission to rescue two satellites and launch two others in
1984. It was the first time an incumbent member of Congress travelled into space.
Two years after flying the first "Return to Flight" mission,
Discovery was again a part of history when it launched the Hubble
Space Telescope on April 24, 1990.
In 1998, Discovery carried another active senator into space
when John Glenn became the oldest human to ever go into space.
Glenn had previously travelled to space in 1962 as part of the
Mercury Atlas 6 mission; he was the fifth person to ever travel into
Glenn was 77 years old when he boarded Discovery and
helped the space program gain valuable information about how
space travel affects individuals of advanced ages.
The mission was also the first time a Spaniard traveled to
space with astronaut Pedro Duque on board.
During its career, Discovery travelled 148,221,675 miles, deployed 31 satellites, docked 13 times at the International Space
Station and once with Russian space station Mir.
"It is a vehicle the likes of which we won't see again, for probably decades," Barratt said in an interview with ABC News from
orbit. "The carrying capacity of this ship, the number of people,
the fact that it can be an independent orbiting laboratory or a massive cargo hauler. It can support spacewalks or experimental work
and land in a fairly sanguine fashion on a runway. It is an incredible spaceship, so I think we can celebrate that legacy with absolutely no problem, with reckless abandon if you will."
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