Space Shuttle Discovery To Fly For The Last Time

A 30-year mission is coming to an end for NASA.  Today, Space Shuttle Discovery is making its final launch from NASA Launch Pad 39A from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  The Space Shuttle flights are coming to an end, with Discovery making its 39th launch from the surface of the Earth.

Discovery is set to launch at 4:50 p.m., with a crew of six commanded by Steve Lindsey,  a retired Air Force colonel. Its 11-day mission – ferrying supplies and a humanoid robot to the International Space Station — will be its 39th since 1984, and its last.


Tens of thousands of people are expected to watch the launch from vantage points all along the Space Coast. Among those in the VIP area will be Florida Governor Rick Scott, watching the first launch since he took office in January, as well as U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden.

In addition to Lindsey, 50, a fighter pilot who flew dozens of missions in Iraq, the crew includes pilot Eric Boe, 45, an Air Force colonel and fellow fighter-pilot veteran, from Atlanta; and mission specialists Alvin Drew, 47; Steve Bowen, 47; Michael Barratt, 51, a medical doctor; Nicole Stott, who lived on the Space Coast for many years while working as a mission engineer at Kennedy Space Center.

The mission marks the beginning of the end of the 30-year space shuttle program. Discovery, arguably the most-storied and versatile spaceship in the fleet, should be followed by Endeavour in April, and, if all goes well, Atlantis as early as June. Then, for the first time in nearly 60 years, the United States will have no government-owned rocket ready to launch.

Delayed for various reasons since November, Discovery’s last launch will feature an interesting bit of cargo.  That would be the robotic astronaut Robonaut 2, who will be heading to the International Space Station as part of Discovery’s last mission.  It’s kind of interesting how the end of an era overlaps with the beginning of a brand new era, isn’t it?  Just think, in ten years, there’ll be unmanned space shuttles flying everywhere.

Good luck, NASA.  Here’s to a successful last mission for the old warhorse!