Discovery’s Final Voyage is Over
Space shuttle Discovery is back on Earth from its final voyage.
The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by a crewmember on space shuttle Discovery after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation on March 7.
The world's most flown spaceship landed at NASA's Florida spaceport a few minutes before noon Wednesday. The space center was packed with workers, journalists and even some schoolchildren eager to see history in the making.
Discovery will now be retired and, several months from now, head to the Smithsonian Institution. It's the first of NASA's three surviving shuttles to be decommissioned.
NASA's oldest shuttle has flown 39 missions over nearly 27 years.
It ended its flying career with 148 million miles and 365 days spent in space.
Two shuttle flights remain, by Endeavour, then Atlantis. Then they, too, will be retired.
Discovery and its six astronauts spent more than a week at the International Space Station. The astronauts delivered and installed a new storage compartment, complete with a humanoid robot.
Endeavour is scheduled to blast off in less than six weeks. NASA planned to move it out to the launch pad Wednesday night but postponed the move until Thursday because bad weather was expected.
NASA is under presidential direction to spread its wings beyond low-Earth orbit. The goal is to send astronauts to an asteroid and then Mars in the decades ahead. There is not enough money for NASA to achieve that and maintain the shuttle program at the same time. As a result, the shuttles will stop flying this summer after 30 years.
American astronauts will keep hitching rides to the space station on Russian Soyuz capsules, until private companies are able to provide taxi service to and from orbit. NASA expects to get another nine years out of the space station.