Space Shuttle Discovery has returned to Earth from its 39th and final mission Dec. 8, marking the end of 27 years of service.
The shuttle touched down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 11:57 a.m. EST March 9, capping a busy 13-day mission to the international space station.
Discovery was “a perfect vehicle from start to finish on her final flight,” shuttle commander Steven Lindsey radioed Mission Control after landing in some stiff winds.
“Great job by you and your crew. That was a great landing in tough conditions and it was an awesome docked mission that you all had,” Mission Control told the crew, adding that the mission’s 13 days boosted Discovery to a full year of cumulative time in space. “I think that you’d call that a fleet leader and a leader of any manned vehicle for time in orbit. So, job well done.”
As the shuttle’s six-astronaut crew predicted, the air at the landing site was tinged with a mixture of celebration and sadness.
“It really is an honor and a privilege to be able to fly Discovery at any time, and the fact that we’re on this final flight really stands out to us,” NASA mission specialist Nicole Stott said during an in-flight interview. “It’s a real opportunity to celebrate the really great things that have gone on with Discovery. I think when we walk away from her on the runway, there’s going to be tears in my eyes. I worked with her at KSC, and the chance to fly her has just been a real, real privilege.”
Now that Discovery is back on Earth, NASA plans to begin preparing the orbiter for public display in a museum, likely the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
Discovery is the first of NASA’s space shuttles to be retired, but all three will eventually end up on display. An intense competition among 29 institutions has been under way for the limited number of shuttles. NASA will announce the final destinations for Discovery and its two sister ships April 12 — the 30th anniversary of the shuttle program.