The oldest and perhaps most storied of the shuttle fleet, Discovery launched on her final mission today to deliver a final module to the U.S. segment of the International Space Station, the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module, as well as the first humanoid robot to fly in space, Robonaut2. Named for the ships used by Henry Hudson and James Cook, Discovery launched on her maiden flight 30 Aug 1984. Since that launch, no other shuttle – or spacecraft, has flown to space more (39 launches counting today) or carried more crew members to orbit (246 before today). Among her missions were many notable firsts — first satellite retrieved from orbit and returned to Earth on its second mission (TELESAT-H & SYNCOM IV-1 which had malfunctioned on-orbit), flew the first Russian cosmonaut on a US spacecraft (STS-60), first rendezvous with the Russian space station, MIR (STS-63) and was the last shuttle to dock with MIR (STS-91), reached the highest altitude for a shuttle in low Earth orbit (STS-82), and first ISS crew rotation (STS-102). More importantly, Discovery was the shuttle that returned America to space following the loss of the Challenger and Columbia…

Total miles traveled: 142,917,535; Total days in orbit: 351; (8,441 hours, 50 minutes, 41 seconds); Total orbits: 5,628 (all pre-STS-133). All in all, quite a ride.

And so as I await Discovery’s safe return to Earth and eventual emplacement in a museum, and as the remainder of the fleet is phased out and decommissioned over the course of the next year, I wonder how long it will be before we return to space on an American launcher.

2015? 2018? 2020?

Wonder what the odds are in Vegas on that…

(all images courtesy NASA)


  1. Rubber Ducky

    I watched it launch. Mostly clouds but good to see it get off. The countdown ran into difficulties on the range side – faulty display. Air Force got it fixed and they resumed the count at T-minus-5 minutes … with 5 minutes and 2 seconds left in the window when they picked up the count.

  2. So what is the future of nasa as of the end of all space shuttle flights? Is nasa still going to be in operation with the space travel and what is the future of the us and the space station ? Is the nasa program coming to an end?

    • Rubber Ducky

      It looks like flat funding or thereabouts for human space flight, pretty much business as usual for space science and aeronautics research, though in a constrained funding environment.

      Human space flight is shifting to a greater reliance on commercially derived/designed/ventured launch vehicles and crew capsules. NASA has and will put seed money into these efforts but the amounts are – again – budget-constrained. So far, the commercial guys are doing well … with much less money and in much shorter time.

      Some of us who watch NASA up close see its human-space side as an utterly bureaucratic mess all bound up with staying in business rather than doing its job. The big inflection point was when it went into shuttle and started to put so much of its budget into operations rather than R&D. The ISS compounds this, and can be justified pretty much just for making the shuttle necessary. The actual science going on there is piffle, ‘frogs in space’ as a former NASA PR friend said it.

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