Space Shuttle Discovery Landed Today, Ending Its Flying Career
|12:43:13 PM, Wednesday, March 09, 2011|
as the world's most flown spaceship Wednesday, returning from orbit for the last time and taking off in a new direction as a museum piece.
NASA's oldest shuttle swooped through a mostly clear noontime sky to a touchdown at its home base.
"To the ship that has led the way time and time again, we say, 'Farewell Discovery,'" radioed the Mission Control commentator.
Florida's spaceport was packed with shuttle program workers, journalists and even some schoolchildren eager to see history in the making.
The six astronauts on board went through their landing checklists with the bittersweet realization no one would ever ride Discovery again. They said during their 13-day space station delivery mission that they expected that to hit them hard when the shuttle came to a stop on the runway.
At three minutes before noon Eastern Time — Discovery landed and ceased being a reusable rocketship.
"For the final time: wheels stop," Discovery's commander Steven Lindsey called out as the shuttle rolled to a stop.
Even after shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis make their final voyages in the coming months, Discovery will still hold the all-time record with 39 missions, 148 million miles, 5,830 orbits of Earth, and 365 days spent in space. All that was achieved in under 27 years.
Discovery now leads the way to retirement as NASA winds down the 30-year shuttle program in favor of interplanetary travel.
NASA estimates it will take several months of work — removing the three main engines and draining all hazardous fuels — before Discovery is ready to head to the Smithsonian Institution. It will make the 750-mile journey strapped to the top of a jumbo jet.
Throughout the flight, Lindsey and his crew marveled at how well Discovery was performing. They noted that the spacecraft was going into retirement still "at the top of her game."
"A dream machine," observed Lindsey's co-pilot, Eric Boe, on the eve of landing.
Discovery's last mission ended up being flawless despite a four-month grounding for fuel tank repairs.
Perhaps more than any other shuttle, Discovery consistently delivered..."
-- I support retiring the shuttles. I do not support not having a replacement... This is very bittersweet, disillusioning really. =(
The photo is of Space Shuttle Discovery catching a ride by Lori Losey NASA, August 19, 2005.