CAPE CANAVERAL – The most traveled spacecraft in human history touched for the final time at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF). The shuttle touched down on runway 15 wrapping up Discovery’s 39th mission. Discovery launched on Feb. 24 at 11:57 a.m. EDT. The successful conclusion of the STS-133 wraps up a career that stretches back 27 years. Discovery first flew in 1984 on STS-41D.
NASA’s Shuttle Launch Director, Michael Leinbach summed it up more simply and eloquently when he said, “Astronauts are home safe, good day.”
Since her first mission Discovery has gone on to fly some of the most crucial missions of the space shuttle program. It was Discovery that flew Sen. Jake Garn as well as Senator and former Mercury astronaut John Glenn to space. Discovery delivered the Hubble Space Telescope to orbit and Discovery the returned America to space after both the Challenger and Columbia disasters.
Her final mission was a resupply flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Her cargo included the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (which held the first humanoid robot – Robonaut-2). R2 was definitely the star of the mission; it was the first robot that the U.S. sent to the orbiting outpost.
The crew who flew this mission consisted of Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott and Stephen Bowen. Bowen flew on the last shuttle flight, STS-132, and was a last-minute replacement for Tim Kopra who injured himself in a bicycle accident in January.
Discovery launched back on Feb. 24 in a bit of pinch as a range issue cropped up at the last minute that threatened to scrub the launch. Discovery had slated to launch on Nov. 5 but a leak at the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate (GUCP) scrubbed the launch. Afterward engineers discovered a popped up section of foam that led to numerous cracks being found along the intertank region of the external tank. These cracks were repaired in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). After the repair work was checked the orbiter was sent back out to the pad and readied for launch.
Now that the orbiter has completed its final mission it will enter the next phase of its life – retirement. It will be sent to the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center in Washington D.C. where it will be placed on display. With Discovery’s last mission over, there are only two flights left in the program. Today, however, was Discovery’s day.
“When I think of the Discovery team, I think of not only the folks that made this vehicle as perfect as it was for this mission, but all the way back to when she first rolled out of Palmdale, California,” said NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Operations William Gerstenmaier. “We’ve got two more flights in the program and we need to stay focused, spaceflight doesn’t come easy as we all know.”