NASA’s space shuttle Discovery finished its 39th and final mission by landing back on Earth at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida under sunny skies yesterday.
Discovery touched down at 11.57am EST (16.57pm GMT). Over the next several months, the orbiter will be decommissioned and turned into a museum display.
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.
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.