Photo Feature: Looking Back Upon My Time With Discovery

Discovery glides into KSC under her own power for the final time to complete the STS-133 mission. Photo Credit: Chase Clark/

Spending time up close to NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet is a special treat for just about anyone, but it is most especially so for an aspiring space journalist. It was only as the Space Shuttle program was winding down that NASA really ‘opened up the doors’ of Kennedy Space Center to members of the media and offered us a level of access that only a select few had been privileged to enjoy in the past decades. To be fair to NASA though, the number of media seeking access to the Shuttle program in recent years was a fairly small figure up until the final two launches of the program.

I’ve been a fan of the STS program since the very first launch, but it was not until STS-124 that I actually saw a launch in person. I had moved to South Florida in early 2007 and finally made it up to the Space Coast to see an on-time launch on May 31, 2008. It just so happened to be Discovery was the orbiter which launched into a beautiful blue sky shortly after 5 p.m. that day. I watched the launch from the riverbank along U.S. Highway 1 in Titusville, a position approximately 13 miles away from Pad 39A but still a majestic view, followed a minute later by the thundering roar of the five rocket engines.

Titusville's riverbank offered a spectacular view of the launch of Discovery on the STS-124 mission in 2008. Photo Credit: Chase Clark

Needless to say I was hooked. In all I would witness six Shuttle launches, three landings, two towbacks, two lift and mates inside the VAB, and even be among the lucky few allowed to crawl around the interior of Discovery (and months later Endeavour as well). It was a journey of which dreams of both a child and an adult were realized. And hopefully there will be many more dreams to be lived in the near future as commercial space and SLS both thunder off the two historic launch pads of Kennedy Space Center once again.

As Discovery completes her final flight from KSC – her home of nearly three decades – to the the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia – an annex to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. – I thought it would be a good time to offer the readers of AmericaSpace a look back at Discovery as seen through my eyes. It was quite the ride and my gratitude goes to NASA for letting me follow along as the ‘workhorses of space’ flew on their final missions.

Members of the media form a line across the crawlerway in preparation for the retraction of the RSS the evening before the scheduled launch of STS-133. Photo Credit: Chase Clark
The xenon lights circling Pad 39A bathe Discovery as she sits patiently awaiting launch. Photo Credit: Chase Clark/
Discovery thunders off Pad 39A for the final time as seen from the KSC Press Site three miles away. Photo Credit: Chase Clark
A road to never be traveled again. Discovery is towed back to the OPF after landing for the final time at KSC. Photo Credit: Chase Clark/
The media contingent for STS-133 at the KSC Press Site was rather light when compared to the hoard that would descend upon the Space Coast for the final two missions. Photo Credit: Chase Clark
The final crew of Discovery meet with the press to answer questions hours after concluding the STS-133 mission. Photo Credit: Chase Clark
Staring up at the front landing gear of Discovery as she sits inside OPF-2 undergoing final processing into retirement. Photo Credit: Chase Clark/
A peek into the wide-open payload bay of Discovery inside OPF-2. Photo Credit: Chase Clark/
Peering down the fuselage of Discovery with the wing below and the payload bay door above. Photo Credit: Chase Clark
Discovery's rear end with the trio of Space Shuttle Main Engines removed. Photo Credit: Chase Clark
Discovery's heat shield tiles near the cockpit windows show damage from the millions of miles of space travel. Photo Credit: Chase Clark
It takes more than a standard gas cap to cover the 17" fuel lines on Discovery. Photo Credit: Chase Clark
The open avionics bays located on the mid-deck of Discovery. Photo Credit: Chase Clark
The airlock from the mid-deck into the payload bay of Discovery. Notice the OV-103 sticker along the right edge. As if anyone would forget which orbiter they were aboard. Photo Credit: Chase Clark
The versatile and well utilized Canadarm before it was removed from Discovery. Photo Credit: Chase Clark/
Hanging out the airlock into the payload bay of Discovery inside OPF-2. Photo Credit: Chase Clark/
A rare glance at the innards of Discovery. This panel inside the payload bay was removed by technicians servicing the orbiter. Photo Credit: Chase Clark
An experience beyond my wildest dreams; standing upon the flight deck of Discovery. Photo Credit: Chase Clark


  1. Thanks Mary. I think nearly every space photographer I’ve met has covered the Space Shuttles purely out of love. Getting paid was a secondary, or tertiary, concern.

  2. RIP Discovery! STS-133 was the most spectacular Space Shuttle launch that I witnessed. I still remember my experiences like a little schoolboy at KSC in the press site.

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Space shuttle Discovery flying 'piggyback' atop a NASA 747 shuttle carrier aircraft, departing KSC this morning on her final flight, a one-way trip to the Smithsonian. Photo Credit: Mike Killian

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