The space shuttle Discovery has had a long and busy career. For 27 years, it has worked for NASA, carrying astronauts to space and back on 39 missions. On Wednesday, after returning from its final voyage, the world's most traveled spaceship was retired.
A crowd of shuttle workers, reporters and schoolchildren waited to greet Discovery at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Three minutes before noon, they watched as the shuttle appeared in the sky and made one last touchdown. "For the final time: wheels stop," Discovery's commander Steven Lindsey said when the shuttle rolled to a stop.
The Final Mission
Discovery's final trip was to the International Space Station (ISS), a giant space lab in the sky. Since 1998, 16 nations have been working together to build the space base 220 miles above Earth. Discovery's crew took care of the last U.S. construction project at ISS—installing new storage space.
They also dropped off an unusual companion for ISS's six-person crew#151;a humanoid, or human-like, robot named Robonaut 2. Designers say the robot will eventually become a silent member of the crew.
Including the 13-day final mission, Discovery has spent a total of 365 days in space and has traveled a whopping 148 million miles since 1984. "It came back as perfect on its final flight as it did on its first flight," Lindsey said.
Next Stop: a Museum
After 30 years, NASA is winding down its shuttle program. The plan is to begin work on new spaceships that can travel longer distances. Discovery's retirement is the first of three. Endeavor, another shuttle, is scheduled to make its final voyage next month. And Atlantis's last trip is planned for the end of June.
Museums across the country have requested the retired shuttles. The Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum, in Washington, D.C., may be the lucky recipient of Discovery. Congress has already passed a bill to help the museum cover the cost of preparing the shuttle for display—a fee of more than $28 million!
Where will the other shuttles go? You'll have to wait to find out. NASA will announce its decision on April 12, the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle launching. Stay tuned!