Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Shuttle Discovery Ends Flying Career, Museum Next

Discovery ended its career as the world's most flown spaceship Wednesday, returning from orbit for the last time and taking off in a new direction as a museum piece. After a flawless trip to the International Space Station, NASA's oldest shuttle swooped through a few wispy clouds on its way to its final touchdown. When it landed three minutes before noon EST, Discovery ceased being a reusable rocketship.

Even after shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis make their final voyages in the coming months, Discovery will still hold the all-time record with 39 missions, 148 million miles, 5,830 orbits of Earth, and 365 days spent in space. All that was achieved in under 27 years. NASA estimates it will take several months of work — removing the three main engines and plumbing with hazardous fuels — before Discovery is ready for the Smithsonian Institution. Engineers also will remove some parts to study them for future spacecraft.

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