Thu, March 10, 2011
Technology > Science

Shuttle Discovery lands in Florida, concluding career

2011-03-10 01:12:59 GMT2011-03-10 09:12:59(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English


The photo provided by NASA shows U.S. space shuttle Discovery landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the United States, March 9, 2011. Discovery landed safely here on Wednesday, ending its nearly 27-year flying career as the world's most-traveled spaceship. (Xinhua/NASA/Bill Ingalls)

WASHINGTON, March 9 (Xinhua) -- U.S. space shuttle Discovery landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, ending its nearly 27-year flying career as the world's most- traveled spaceship.

According to NASA, Discovery touched down at 11:57 a.m. EST ( 1657 GMT) after a 13-day resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

"For the final time: wheels stop," Discovery's commander Steven Lindsey called out as the shuttle rolled to a full stop.

Discovery lifted off on Feb. 24 from the Kennedy Center and arrived at the space station on Feb. 26.

During the mission, the astronauts installed a spare closet module on the space station, completed some important repairs and delivered the first humanoid robot, though it will need more time to be assembled and made operational.

The 330-pound R2 consists of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. Once it is unpacked -- likely several months after its arrival at the station -- it will initially be operated inside the Destiny laboratory for operational testing, but over time both its territory and its applications could expand.

Aboard the station, its primary job for now is teaching engineers how dexterous robots behave in space. However, the hope is that through upgrades and advancements, it could one day venture outside the station to help spacewalkers make repairs or additions to the station or perform scientific work.

This is the 39th and last flight for Discovery, the first of the three surviving U.S. space shuttles to be retired this year.

There were initially five space shuttles in the fleet -- Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff in 1986 and Columbia disintegrated on its way back to Earth in 2003. Endeavour is set for its final takeoff on April 19 and a last mission for Atlantis is scheduled for June 28, though funding for Atlantis remains in question.

The sixth shuttle, Enterprise, did test flights in the atmosphere but was never flown into space. It is already on display at a museum outside Washington.

Since its flight debut in August 1984, Discovery has transported the Hubble Space Telescope, helped carry the Japanese Kibo lab to the space station, been the first shuttle to be commanded by a female astronaut and the first to rendezvous with the Russian Mir Space Station. It holds the all-time record with 39 missions, 148 million miles (238 million kilometers) of flight distance, 5,830 orbits of Earth, and 365 days spent in space.

The 30-year-old shuttle program is ending due to high operating costs. The Obama administration wants to spur private companies to get into the space taxi business, thus freeing NASA to focus on deep space exploration and new technology development.

When the U.S. space shuttle program officially ends later this year, the Russian space program's Soyuz capsule will be the only method for transporting astronauts to and from the ISS.

Cargo delivery to the station will be run by Russia, Europe and Japan, as well as two U.S. firms -- Space Exploration Technologies and Orbital Sciences Corp.


The photo provided by NASA shows U.S. space shuttle Discovery landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the United States, March 9, 2011. (Xinhua/NASA/Bill Ingalls)


The photo provided by NASA shows U.S. space shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station as the two orbital spacecraft accomplish their relative separation, March 7, 2011. (Xinhua/NASA/Bill Ingalls)


The photo provided by NASA shows the runway of the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) being marked to show where the wheels stopped for U.S. space shuttle Discovery shortly after its landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the United States, March 9, 2011. (Xinhua/NASA/Bill Ingalls)


The photo provided by NASA shows U.S. space shuttle Discovery landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the United States, March 9, 2011. (Xinhua/NASA/Bill Ingalls)

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