March 7, 2011

Discovery Begins Return Trip To Earth

Space shuttle Discovery departed from the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, beginning its journey home for the final time after a nine day stopover at the orbital base.

According to Irene Klotz of Reuters, shuttle pilot Eric Boe "gently pulsed the ship's steering jets to back away from the station" at 7am EST, and as the most well-traveled spaceship in the world departed from the ISS, they left behind "a new storage room, a prototype robot and tons of supplies."

Discovery's 39th and final journey is scheduled to come to a close when the shuttle returns to Florida's Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday. Following the end of the mission, the venerable shuttle will be retired and sent to a museum, according to AP Aerospace Writer Marcia Dunn.

Boe and the rest of the six-person Discovery crew received a special early-morning greeting from actor William Shatner, best known as the man who played Captain James T. Kirk in the 'Star Trek' television series and motion pictures.

According to various media reports, Shatner spoke over the theme song of that iconic TV program as he spoke, mimicking its opening sequence by saying: "Space, the final frontier. These have been the voyages of the space shuttle Discovery. Her 30-year mission: to seek out new science, to build new outposts, to bring nations together on the final frontier, to boldly go and do what no spacecraft has done before."

According to NASA, Discovery officially spent eight days, 16 hours, and 46 minutes attached to the space station as part of mission STS-133. Upon its departure, Boe flew a lap around the ISS as the Discovery crew took photos of the station and documented the newly attached modules, including the Permanent Multipurpose Module and External Logistics Carrier-4 that they delivered.

"The final flights of Discovery's sister ships, Endeavour and Atlantis, are planned for April and June," Klotz said on Monday. "NASA is retiring the fleet after 30 years of service due to high operating expenses and to develop new spacecraft that can fly beyond the station's 220-mile-high orbit."


Image Caption: Space shuttle Discovery performs its flyaround of the International Space Station as both spacecraft orbit over the Sahara Desert. Image credit: NASA TV


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