Space Shuttle Discovery Lands for the Last Time

After 27 years in service, the space shuttle Discovery landed safely in Florida after its last mission ever.

NASA reported the crew of the space shuttle Discovery landed safely at Kennedy Space Center in Florida March 9 after its last mission into space. With this last flight, Discovery has spent a total of 365 days in space, over the course of 39 missions. It will have orbited the Earth 5,830 times and traveled more than 148 million miles, including this journey, the 5.3-million-mile mission STS-133.

After 27 years of service during which it racked up exactly one cumulative year in space and an odometer reading of more than 148 million miles, space shuttle Discovery's distinguished career has flown into the history books.

"And to the ship that has led the way time and time again, we say farewell, Discovery," said NASA Commentator Josh Byerly.

Commander Steve Lindsey said when the orbiter stopped on the runway: "And Houston, Discovery. For the final time, wheel-stop." He also thanked the Kennedy team for giving the crew a "terrific vehicle for a final flight."

Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialist Nicole Stott powered up Discovery's flight-control system and tested the flaps and rudder that let them control the shuttle's flight once it entered the Earth's atmosphere. Next, they test-fired the jets that controlled the shuttle before it reached the atmosphere. Lindsey and Boe then worked with the Ram Burn Observations experiment. They did burns of an orbital maneuvering system engine for the experiment, aimed at bettering understanding of spacecraft engine plumes.

NASA reported the crew spent considerable time stowing items in Discovery's cabin in preparing for re-entry and landing. All participated in a de-orbit briefing before lunch. After the meal, the crew took time off from packing to talk with representatives of the news media.

The crew's previous day had gotten off to a rocking start with a live rendition of "Blue Sky" sung by guitar-wielding Todd Park Mohr of Big Head Todd and the Monsters. It was the first live performance of wake-up music in Mission Control. The song, written for Discovery's return to flight mission after Columbia's loss, won NASA's Top 40 wake-up song contest.

"That was terrific," Lindsey radioed down to Mohr. "We really appreciate it, and congratulations on winning the contest."

Mohr, with his three band members in the control center, thanked Lindsey for his courage, bravery "and your effort in just giving all of us a better shot at knowing more. It's very inspirational to the arts as well."

During the shuttle's final spaceflight, the STS-133 crew members delivered important spare parts to the International Space Station along with the Express Logistics Carrier-4. Steve Bowen replaced Tim Kopra as mission specialist 2 following a bicycle injury Jan. 15 that prohibited Kopra from supporting the launch window. Bowen last flew on Atlantis in May 2010 as part of the STS-132 crew. Flying on the STS-133 mission makes Bowen the first astronaut ever to fly on consecutive missions.

Discovery was the shuttle that launched the Hubble Space Telescope and the Ulysses probe designed to study the Sun. The shuttle also carried Project Mercury astronaut John Glenn, who was 77 at the time, back into space during STS-95 in October 1998, making him the oldest person to venture into space. Discovery has flown 38 flights, completed 5,247 orbits and spent 322 days in orbit. The shuttle is the orbiter fleet leader, having flown more flights than any other orbiter in the fleet, including four in 1985 alone.