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)