by Ken Kremer, AAAP, Spaceflight magazine & The Planetary Society
Farewell Discovery! The epic voyages of Space Shuttle Discovery now belong to history. The final magnificent mission of Space Shuttle Discovery and her all-veteran, six-astronaut crew wrapped up on March 9 with a safe landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:57 a.m. EST after a flawless mission. Steve Lindsey commanded the STS-133 flight and was joined by Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott. Discovery’s 13-day flight ended after a journey of more than five million miles on a joyous and bittersweet note. I was watching from just a few hundred yards away at the shuttle landing strip.
The entire NASA shuttle team is proud of the accomplishments of the Space Shuttle Program but sad that the program is ending so soon. The sentiment from everyone involved with the shuttle program from top management to the flight team to the astronauts corps is that the orbiters could be safely and usefully flown for many more years.
The STS-133 mission was the 39th and final flight for the illustrious orbiter which first flew in 1984 and is NASA’s longest serving orbiter. NASA Shuttle managers emphasized that the safe conclusion of the STS-133 mission was due to the hard work of everyone on the team and the absolute requirement that everyone stay totally focused on getting the done job correctly and perfectly. “Spaceflight doesn’t come easy,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Space Operations. “We need to stay focused, keep our heads down and recognize that this is not easy. I think Discovery’s legacy will be the future.”
Altogether, Discovery spent a full year in space during the 39 missions, orbited Earth 5,830 times and traveled 148,221,675 miles during a career spanning 27 years. “We wanted to go out on a high note and Discovery’s done that,” said Mike Leinbach, shuttle launch director. “We couldn’t ask for more. It was virtually a perfect mission conducted by a perfect flight crew and a perfect ground crew. I couldn’t be happier.”
The primary goal of the STS-133 mission was to deliver the “Leonardo” Permanent Multipurpose Module to the ISS. Leonardo was attached to the ISS as a new and permanent habitable module that will provide extra storage and living space for the six person ISS crew. Also aboard Discovery was R2, or Robonaut 2, which is the first humanoid robot in space. R2 was unpacked from Leonardo a few weeks later and become an official member of the station crew.
Discovery will now be decommissioned over the next few months and then be prepared for a museum display, most likely at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Next month I’ll report about my up close visit on top of Launch Pad 39A with Space Shuttle Endeavour for her final flight on the STS-134 mission.
Read Ken’s STS-133 articles online at Universe Today, The Planetary Society & CWEB:
Yuri’s Night at West Windsor Arts Center: West Windsor, NJ, April 12, 5:30 – 9 PM, “50 Years of Human Spaceflight from Yuri Gagarin to the Space Shuttle and Beyond”. Website: http://www.westwindsorartscenter.org/
Yuri’s Night Home Page: http://yurisnight.net/
Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton: Princeton, NJ, May 10, 8 PM “Whats Beyond for NASA: Shuttle, Station, Orion, SpaceX & Robots”. Website: http://www.princetonastronomy.org/
International Astronomy Day at the Franklin Institute: Philadelphia, PA, May 7, “The Search for Life on Mars”
Rittenhouse Astronomical Society (RAS) at the Franklin Institute: Philadelphia, PA, Jun 9, Wed, 7 PM. “Opportunity Mars Rover Update”, “ NASA Flybys of Comets Hartley 2 & Temple 1.” Website: http://www.rittenhouseastronomicalsociety.org
Ken Kremer: Spaceflight magazine, Universe Today & The Planetary Society
Please contact Ken for more info or science outreach presentations: