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Discovery completes final flight, 27 years of space travel

Thursday March 10, 2011 07:44:04 AM, DPA

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Washington: The Discovery touched down in Florida Wednesday, returning from its final voyage and becoming the first of the remaining three space shuttles to go into retirement.

Discovery's 27 years of service ended when it landed at 11.57 a.m. (1657 GMT) at the Kennedy Space Centre after a 13-day mission that included docking with the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver the final US component.

"The end of a historic journey," NASA proclaimed as the shuttle gently hit the ground, deployed a parachute and rolled to a stop.

The mission delivered an extra room along with supplies and equipment, including a human-like robot, known as Robonaut 2 (R2), the first such robot ever sent into orbit. A pair of Discovery astronauts completed two spacewalks to conduct repairs on the outside of the ISS.

Endeavour is scheduled to take-off April 19, and Atlantis at the end of June, marking the last flight of the celebrated space shuttle programme.

Discovery's voyage was to have occurred four months ago, but the shuttle was plagued by multiple delays after cracks were discovered in the spacecraft's external fuel tank. It took NASA several months to pinpoint and fix the cause of the cracks.

The challenges associated with getting Discovery into space was emblematic of the problems NASA has encountered in recent years. The 2003 Columbia disaster prompted the agency to more strongly consider retirement plans and usher in a new space vehicle.

The oldest shuttle in the fleet, Discovery has cumulatively spent a year in orbit and logged many spaceflight firsts. It was the first shuttle to return to flight after the Challenger disaster in 1986 and after Columbia's disintegration while re-entering orbit.

Discovery launched the trailblazing Hubble Space Telescope, made the first US rendezvous with the Russian Mir space station, and was the first and last shuttle to rotate crews on the space station.

Discovery's next destination will be a museum.

Construction began in 1979 on Discovery, which blasted off into space for the first time in 1984. It has made more flights than any other shuttle and carried more crew members.

NASA officials have largely focused on the ongoing mission rather than the history Discovery is about to make, but occasionally mention that they will be sad to see the shuttle end its long career.

"It's bittersweet and, quite frankly, sad knowing when we land that'll be the end for this vehicle," commander Steve Lindsey said last week in a press conference from space.

Johnson Space Centre Director Michael Coats, who flew the first Discovery mission, said on NASA television that the space agency can look back with pride on the long history of the shuttle.

"It will take the public a few years to realize the capabilities the shuttle actually had," he said, noting the space station could not have been built without the shuttle fleet's heavy lifting capability.

"There's nothing that's going to come even close to that" being developed, he said.

NASA plans to shift routine ferrying of astronauts aloft to commercial spaceflight providers and focus its attention on building long-range craft to eventually take people to Mars. In the short term, the agency must rely on Russian Soyuz vehicles to carry astronauts aloft.







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Picture of the Day

Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh giving away the Degree to the Students, at the 3rd Convocation of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, in Jammu on March 04, 2011. Governor of Jammu and Kashmir N. N. Vohra and Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah are also seen.



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