February 24, 2011

Discovery Successfully Embarks On Its Final Voyage

Space shuttle Discovery successfully lifted off on its final voyage into space on Thursday.

The six astronauts aboard the shuttle are heading for the International Space Station (ISS) after a four-month delay for fuel tank repairs.

"Good to be here," Discovery Commander Steve Lindsey radioed soon after the three main engines shut off and the external fuel tank was jettisoned.

This is Discovery's 39th and final mission into space.  It is the first of the three space shuttles to be retired this year.

Discovery is the world's most traveled spaceship.

The shuttle is expected to reach the ISS on Saturday to deliver a compartment full of supplies as well as the first humanoid robot to fly in space.

The original launch date was set in November until engineers found a hydrogen gas leak that led to numerous delays and other problems, leading to its successful February 24th launch date.

Discovery has logged 143 million miles since its first flight in 1984. 

"She's been an amazing machine," launch director Mike Leinbach told journalists on Wednesday. "She's done everything we've asked of her."

Space shuttle Atlantis is set to take off on its final mission in April, while Endeavour will take its final flight at the end of June.

About 40,000 guests gathered for Discovery's farewell launch from Cape Canaveral.

Meanwhile, up at the space station, the six-person crew welcomed a European cargo ship that was launched last week from French Guiana.  It docked successfully just six hours before Discovery's launch.

"Busy day in space," station commander Scott Kelly noted in a tweet.


Image Caption: Space shuttle Discovery lifts off. Image credit: NASA TV


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