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Space shuttle Discovery lands in Florida, capping its 39th and final mission

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Discovery glides in for its final landing on March 9, 2011It took space shuttle Discovery several months to get off the ground on its final mission, but the shuttle’s landing came off without a hitch. Discovery touched down on schedule, just before noon March 9, putting an end to its 26 years of service, in which the orbiter made 39 trips to space and logged more than 230 million kilometers.

The shuttle was originally scheduled to lift off in November, but a series of delays and glitches at the launch pad kept it grounded until February. Having completed its final mission, officially designated STS-133, Discovery is now headed to retirement as NASA phases out the shuttle program. Discovery will likely end up as an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, but NASA will not make an official proclamation on the future home of the three remaining shuttles until April 12.

The astronauts of the STS-133 mission delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) two major pieces of hardware: a module to provide additional storage and work space, and an external platform for storing spare parts on the station.

"This is very bittersweet for all of us," NASA administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, said at Kennedy Space Center in Florida after the landing, according to a NASA statement. "Discovery holds a special place for me and for [Kennedy director] Bob Cabana over here because we both had the opportunity to fly on it twice."

Two shuttle launches remain on NASA’s calendar. In the first, targeted for April, Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, will command space shuttle Endeavour on a trip to the ISS. The second mission, the last one for the shuttle program, is scheduled for June. That flight will send the Atlantis orbiter to the ISS.

Photo of Discovery landing at Kennedy Space Center: NASA





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  1. 1. johndel 4:12 pm 03/10/2011

    "Discovery will likely end up as an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum" – how sad.

    As an engineer I worked on the Apollo Program and watched entranced, and proudly, as our astronauts walk the moon. Those were the glory days of US space exploration. In the early ’70′s I visited the brand new Air & Space Museum and marveled at American ingenuity.

    Recently, I revisited the museum and could only be saddened by the display of a now vintage reminder of what we once were, brave and daring, and what we are now, cautious and unable to imagine.

    It’s clear that the anti-science yahoos have won and reduced the US to an also ran in scientific exploration and development.

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  2. 2. kc2817 4:47 pm 03/10/2011

    Mr. Del, I teach a gifted math/science class to middle schoolers in Colorado. The love the class and are creative and enthusiastic. If you would like to contribute to a positive future for American innovation, our class would benefit greatly from any of your experience and expertise. With the various technologies for video conferencing, perhaps we could set up a time for you to communicate with them and be an inspiration. Please, let me know if this is something you’d like to do. Thanks!

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