Space shuttle Discovery heads back to Earth

9 Mar 2011

Astronauts aboard NASA’s space shuttle Discovery are heading back to Earth after completing a 13-day mission on Discovery’s 39th and final trip.

Discovery is scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11.57am EST (16.57pm GMT) on 9 March, with another landing opportunity at 1.34pm (18.34pm GMT). Meteorologists have forecast good weather for the landing.

Discovery blasted off on 24 February, heading for the International Space Station. The shuttle’s crew delivered supplies, a storage room and an outdoor platform to contain spare parts for the station. The platform, a US$100bn project of 16 nations, has been under construction since 1998, 367km above Earth.

Once Discovery has landed, it’s heading to a museum. High operating costs and the need to free up funds for work on a new launch system that can carry people and cargo beyond the space station’s orbit, where shuttles can’t go, are why the US is retiring the remaining three space shuttles.

But first, there are two shuttle flights to go: Endeavour is scheduled to launch on 19 April, with the space station’s costliest experiment, the US$2bn Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector. Atlantis‘ cargo run to the space station is to lift off on 28 June.