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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Discovery Landing Ends Storied Chapter in NASA History

NASA moved one step closer to the end of an illustrious era of spaceflight when space shuttle Discovery touched down for the last time at Kennedy Space Center on March 9. Discovery and its six-member crew delivered the Permanent Multipurpose Module, packed with supplies and critical spare parts, as well as Robonaut 2, the dexterous humanoid astronaut helper, to the International Space Station. STS-133 was Discovery’s 39th and final mission. This was the 133rd space shuttle program mission and the 35th shuttle voyage to the ISS. Discovery has flown more missions than any other shuttle—more than any other spacecraft, in fact. After 38 missions to date, and more than 5,600 trips around the Earth, Discovery has carried satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit and sent the Ulysses robotic probe on its way to the sun. It was the first shuttle to rendezvous with the Russian Mir Space Station, and it delivered the Japanese Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station. "The shuttle has provided an amazing capacity for this country to gather data," said Bryan Lunney, lead space shuttle flight director for the mission. "This chapter in our space history known as the space shuttle has been incredible."
Discovery Touchdown
With its drag chute unfurled, space shuttle Discovery rolls down Runway 15 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Entering Orbiter Processing
Discovery enters Orbiter Processing Facility-2 during a move called "towback." The shuttle landed safely on March 9 just before noon.
Pulling to a Stop
The shuttle’s towback vehicle slowly pulls the spacecraft into Orbiter Processing Facility-2.
Flanked by Followers
A purge unit that pumps conditioned air into a shuttle after landing is connected to Discovery’s aft end and additional landing convoy vehicles follow closely behind.
Waiting to Exhale
Inside Discovery, the STS-133 crewmembers prepare to exit the spacecraft after landing safely on the shuttle’s last mission.
Ready to Exit
The crew transport vehicle pulls up to Discovery on the Shuttle Landing Facility’s Runway 15.
Shimmering Shuttle
Discovery appears to be a mirage as it coasts down the runway at Kennedy Space Center in Florida after landing just before noon.
Inspecting the Underside
Bob Cabana, director of the Kennedy Space Center, checks out the underside of Discovery following its final return from space.
Homecoming Photo
The STS-133 crew poses for a photo in front of the space shuttle after landing.
Leading Them On
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden escorts the STS-133 crew to media representatives waiting on the Shuttle Landing Facility.

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