Touchdown

By Phil Plait | March 9, 2011 10:09 am

Today, Wednesday, March 9 at 11:57 a.m. Eastern time, Discovery — the Orbiter that launched Hubble in to orbit, then serviced it twice; that deployed Ulysses; that was the last Orbiter to dock with Mir; that twice was the first Orbiter in space after another was lost; that served more flight days than any other Orbiter, 365 in total, a solid year; a spaceship built by humans that’s logged 238,000,000 kilometers (148 million miles) in space, the most used spacecraft ever built by humans — set her wheels to Earth one final time.

I’d say "Welcome home", but the ground is not a spaceship’s home.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Pretty pictures

Comments (74)

  1. DrFlimmer

    Smooth landing.

    But you’re right: Ground should never be a spaceship’s home.

    Farewell, Discovery! And we thank you!

  2. Sav Szymura
  3. James M.

    Winning.

    The post-lading banter between CAPCOM and the crew is hilarious.
    Crew – “Looks like we have a tricky switch.”
    CAPCOM – “Let’s not use that one on the next flight.”
    Crew – “Good idea.”

  4. Kochira

    She was a fabulous ship and deserves every single accolade that gets laid on her. Good job, we’ll miss you Discovery.

  5. It’s the most longevitous LANDABLE spacecraft. The Mir station and the ISS (starting with the Zarya module) have logged far more time–but theirs is a one-way trip.

    It’s also presumably the vehicle that’s done the most atmospheric re-entries ever, but that’s pretty much redundant since the shuttles are basically the only vehicles that do more than one.

    And I hadn’t realized that it was the next up after Challenger and then Columbia were destroyed. Thanks, Phil.

  6. > “the ground is not a spaceship’s home.”

    As usual, very well put. I’ve grown up with the orbiter program, and now, at 42, seeing it end is bittersweet. I’ve seen a launch up close (STS-125), and I mourned with the entire world for Columbia and Challenger. I have a little envelope with a handful of dirt from KSC. Hallowed ground.

    But as bittersweet as endings are, I am also optimistic about our future! Falcon/Dragon, new challenges and new solutions, and, always, the astonishingly capable and dedicated people, from crew to engineer to machinist, who make human spaceflight possible, all are inspirational. To boldly go!

  7. davidlpf

    At least it went better than this attempt.

  8. Charlie Young

    BTW, whatever came of the Enterprise? She was the full sized test flying mock up. To the Internet!

  9. Josie

    bye bye Discovery :)

    I ‘m glad I got to see you sparkle on your last night in orbit.

  10. The Enterprise shuttle is at the Udvar-Hazy center outside of DC. It’s an extension of the air and space museum; it’s where they keep all the really big stuff that doesn’t fit at the downtown location.

    It’s really awesome to visit. The Enterprise is there, and the rest of the space exhibit is awesome.

  11. The current home of the Enterprise shuttle:

    http://www.nasm.si.edu/udvarhazy/

    And it wasn’t a mock-up. It wasn’t launch-rated or space-rated, but it was a full-sized functional vehicle that was used in atmospheric landing tests.

    Wikipedia indicates that the Discovery will replace the Enterprise at Udvar Hazy and then Enterprise will then go on loan to other institutions.

  12. Chet Twarog

    Great landing–better than I in a Cessna 172. Going to see Space Shuttle Endeavor if it launches between 19 – 22 April. Will find out if I got the KSC pass soon

  13. Chet–If you were landing a C-172 on 15,000 foot long, 300-foot wide runway with a computerized landing guidance system that tells you when to pull up, I bet you’d land that smoothly too.

  14. davidlpf

    My embedded video didn’t get thru.

  15. NickBob

    I think I have a new favorite BA post. You write well, but this shines. Thank you.

  16. Tom

    Two more to go. Then the 50 year space race is over – the US loses.

  17. David

    It occurs to me that “Welcome home” does seem perfectly appropriate for Discovery’s crew. *salutes*

  18. I’ll miss the shuttle program, but we have to remember that it’s not a spaceship. It’s just what its name implies: a shuttle. The ISS is really the closest thing we have to a spaceship right now, though it has no engines. I can’t help feeling, though, that we’re taking a step backward by falling back to disposable rockets.

    I just dream of the day that we’ll begin building ships IN space that are designed for the soul purpose of traveling through space. Maybe we can lift the parts with a space elevator?

  19. @Tom Yeah, especially because of all those Soviet rovers on Mars and Russki probes around virtually every celestial body in the solar system.

    Oh wait….

  20. NoAstronomer

    “…the 50 year space race is over – the US loses.”

    No. We won. We, as in ‘all mankind’.

    Mike.

  21. Laurie

    Completely agree with @NickBob; I was emotional anyway, and this article put my feelings into words. Just beautiful. Thank you!

  22. Matt

    I absolutely love the last line.
    I grew up hope that I would be able to fly on one of those one day.

    I hope something appropriate is done with the shuttles after they’re decommissioned.

  23. Brian

    I’m 24. One of my earliest memories is when my Dad was stationed in Jacksonville. It was before my sister was born, so it had to be a before 1991. Probably 1989, or early 1990. Anyway, it was a night launch and we were watching all the pre-launch stuff on the news. Then we saw the end of the count down, and rushed out of the house and looked toward the south, and I watched my first shuttle launch. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by aircraft, and especially space exploration. I moved to Orlando to go to college and watched about a half-dozen launches from the city and two launches from Titusville. I now work in Melbourne, Fl, I caught what I could of the Discovery launch (cloud cover over Melbourne was killer that day). I will be as close as I can for the final launch. I’ll catch the Endeavor launch as well.

    The shuttle program is the reason I’m an engineer today. It’s a crying shame that it will pass, many won’t care, and there won’t be a replacement for a long…long time…

  24. As the various museums are trying to get their own decommissioned shuttle, I think it would have been smarter to leave an empty shuttle in space orbiting. Maybe put a telescope on it. I think it would offer a variety of flexible options for missions.

    Or send it outward on another mission, unmanned. Its just sad that these war horses are going to be retired to sit and get gawked at, instead of honorably being used until the last scrap of use is gone.

    I suppose it would be expensive to retrofit them. But it seems like an awesome idea.

  25. Dave

    The ground is not a spaceship’s home, but a landing from space to me is the perfect and most appropriate way to end the final flight of a space vessel that is due to retire.

  26. Gus Snarp

    I’ll be paying a visit to Enterprise in a couple of weeks with my kids. Can’t wait.

  27. Jenna

    Your last line made me tear up, Phil. So true.

  28. Rallick

    Well, I wasn’t feeling unusually emotional until that last line. Suddenly it got very dusty in here. Good job, Phil.

  29. Karl

    Awesome stuff! I can’t wait to go and visit Discovery at the NASM — I only live a few miles from it!

    (Offtopic: BTW, maybe this has been pointed out already, but the astronaut in the new Bad Astronomy logo looks like he’s peeing…)

  30. Matthew N

    The last line made me tear up :,(

  31. Calli Arcale

    Matt @ 19:

    I’ll miss the shuttle program, but we have to remember that it’s not a spaceship. It’s just what its name implies: a shuttle. The ISS is really the closest thing we have to a spaceship right now, though it has no engines.

    Actually, the ISS does have engines! The only ones it actually uses are those on the Zvezda module. When the gyros aren’t working, it can use those for attitude control, and it also uses them for periodic reboosting and whenever it needs to dodge space debris. The propellant tanks get topped up every time a Progress arrives, and I think ATV can also supply propellant to Zvezda, though I’m not sure about that.

    Granted, these engines will never take it to another planet. They aren’t big enough. But they are honest-to-gosh rocket engines.

  32. Charlie Young

    I have to put a plug in here for the Museum of Flight in Seattle. If any of you here are from the Northwest, go here to help bring a shuttle to the Museum of Flight

    http://www.museumofflight.org/shuttle-boosters/

  33. Carl

    “I’d say “Welcome home”, but the ground is not a spaceship’s home.”

    That’s beautiful Phil. The shuttles are truely humanity’s first real spaceships, it’s hard to say goodbye =(

  34. toasterhead

    I tend to think the ground IS a spaceship’s home. Traveling to space is what it does, not where it lives. We build them here, maintain them here, and launch them from here. The fact that we can bring them back here safely is what makes them a spaceship.

    And yes, a museum display is probably not the most dignified end for a spaceship of Discovery’s caliber, but I’d rather have her retired in one piece to be gawked at, rather than retired in lots of little pieces, locked away in a storage room at Cape Canaveral.
    ——–
    2. Craig Steffen Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 11:02 am
    And it wasn’t a mock-up. It wasn’t launch-rated or space-rated, but it was a full-sized functional vehicle that was used in atmospheric landing tests.
    —–
    It almost became the second launch vehicle, after Columbia. However, it would have required too much retrofitting, and NASA decided to use another structural test vehicle instead – the one that became Challenger.

  35. Annalee

    Well said.

    As much as I don’t want to see Discovery grounded, though, I am grateful that she completed her last mission safely, and brought her whole crew home.

  36. The ground may not be a spaceships home, but neither should a spaceship be confined to low Earth orbit. But, I have to say, that was a beautiful landing by a beautiful ship.

    BTW, nice new design on the blog!

  37. Michael Swanson

    I’m going to miss the shuttle program. I remember getting up early, staying home from school and sitting in front of the television for hours just waiting for the Columbia to lift off. We even had permission from the school! We didn’t have to be in until an hour after the launch.

    I’m sure I’ve got nothing on those who watched the Moon landing (Live from Desilu Studios! Kidding.) but it’s one of my fondest memories.

  38. I say, send her to space and let her continue on and on… Let ‘space’ be her final resting place.

  39. Chappy

    Good job Discovery!

    I hope whatever replaces you 175 years from now (the way things are going anyways) one of them will be named in honor of your great work. I hope you are remembered forever.

  40. Gark32

    “. . .logged 238,000,000 kilometers (148 million miles) in space. . .”

    this Orbiter has traveled one and a half times the distance between the earth and the sun. this is a hell of an achievement, in my opinion. Her home, as has been stated, is not on Terra Firma.

  41. jfb

    Tom @17:

    Overly dramatic, much?

    Manned flight isn’t the be-all and end-all of the space program, besides which there are entrepreneurs setting up for manned flight to LEO and potentially beyond (Musk made a big deal about Dragon being able to withstand an off-nominal Lunar re-entry).

    And it distresses me that the unmanned program never gets any love. Just about everything we know about Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, etc., comes from the unmanned program. We’re currently exploring the surface of Mars in incredible detail, we’re about to send the most sophisticated robotic explorer ever there, we’re finding geysers on Enceledaus, we’re mapping a hydrocarbon equivalent of a water cycle on Titan, hell, Voyager is within a few years of crossing into interstellar space, but instead of celebrating the talent and ingenuity behind those programs and the vast wealth of knowledge they produced, we’re sad that our favorite short-range space truck has outlived its usefulness.

    It’s like, if we didn’t send people, it didn’t happen. The American space program is still doing great things, they just don’t involve BFRs and space suits.

    We won the bloody race, people; we don’t have to keep circling the track.

  42. Mike Mullen

    While I understand the emotion let’s not lose sight of the fact that this a class of vehicle that should have been grounded and replaced at least 10 years ago. My regret is that Congress seems determined that the Shuttle’s technology should live on for another 20 years…
    As for the suggestion that the US has somehow lost the space race I have a few words in response to that; Dragon, Dreamchaser, and CST-100(Okay not really a word that one). The race, if there is one, isn’t over, there are just some new runners on the track.

  43. Messier Tidy Upper

    Great to see the Shuttle’s landed safely. :-)

    Sad to know she’ll never fly again. :-(

    Bittersweet day.

    Just two more Space Shuttle flights to go.. then an era ends and the future of manned space travel is uncertain. Can the private companies do as well as NASA has? I’ll believe that only when I see it – and I just don’t think it’ll be the same.

    A corporation isn’t a nation.
    American astronauts shouldn’t have to hitch-hike to go to work.
    Dragon isn’t the same as the Shuttle or the Saturn V.

    Maybe they’ll grow on me – maybe, just perhaps, the privateers will do a good job – but I’m a long way from convinced of that & fear we’ve really gone backwards. :-(

  44. Messier Tidy Upper

    @17. Tom : Two more to go. Then the 50 year space race is over – the US loses.

    &

    @ 21. NoAstronomer : No. We won. We, as in ‘all mankind’.

    &

    @ 41. jfb : We won the bloody race, people; we don’t have to keep circling the track.

    The way I see it, the space race was a more like a championship series of separate heats or sub-races with the USSR – the Communist empire -winning the early heats for first satellite, first man and woman in space and more.

    The USA – NASA – caught up through winning the series by first circling then landing humans on the Moon.

    Yes, they “came in peace for all mankind” – but they were national Amercian winners who defeated their rivals -and good thing too. Would the Soviets have been so magnaminous and generous had they won?

    Then the next championship, the next set of races. The race to get space stations working and growing, the race to Mars, the race to go back to our Moon, the race build a successful reusable spaceplane. Well, the USA – NASA – won that last one but the other races remain open.

    But now NASA, the reigning champion is retiring from the race, withdrawn by its team leader (Obama) for no good reason.

    Now China is entering and threatening to take over the running & seize the prizes.

    The new entires are yet toget off the starting line – oh sur ethey’ve flown a few tets flihts but not with people aboard. We’re falling behind.

    The US won one space race – one big series the 1950-70 champions. Can we win the next? If we don’t who will – and if we keep losing how will the winners treat us in future and what will we have lost in the other even bigger global domination contest? :-(

  45. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 41. jfb : .. it distresses me that the unmanned program never gets any love.

    Not “never.” Here’s signs of just some of the love for the unmanned craft :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/04/06/the-marian-call-of-mars/

    &

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/01/29/xkcd-has-the-spirit/

    &

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/blackbeltjones/2531595240/

    (Some NSFW lang. in the comments below on that link.)

    Robots are great. I love the robot missions – Cassini, the MERs*, NewHorizons and the rest.

    But having real live human individuals up there in the Black. That’s something special and significant too.

    Who remembers where they were, who was watching in awe when the first robot landed on the Moon versus the first man?

    ——–

    * MERs = Mars Exploration Rovers – Spirit and Opportunity mostly – so far.

  46. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 41. jfb :

    Musk made a big deal about Dragon being able to withstand an off-nominal Lunar re-entry.

    Talk is cheap. When will see it actually happen?

    @42. Mike Mullen :

    While I understand the emotion let’s not lose sight of the fact that this a class of vehicle that should have been grounded and replaced at least 10 years ago. My regret is that Congress seems determined that the Shuttle’s technology should live on for another 20 years…

    My regret is that the Shuttle’s replacement – whether Constellation or another better spaceplane or something else isn’t flying *now* and isn’t even going to be flying next year or the year after or probably before the decade is out. If ever.

    The NASA successor to the Shuttle should have been able to take over from it immediately not have this indefinitely long gap between programs flying humans – Americans on NASA craft – into orbit. That’s what galls me most.

    As for the suggestion that the US has somehow lost the space race I have a few words in response to that; Dragon, Dreamchaser, and CST-100(Okay not really a word that one). The race, if there is one, isn’t over, there are just some new runners on the track.

    Not really on the track so much as getting ready to take to it and perhaps nearly at the starting line. :-(

    Dragon has yet to lift a human being into even sub-orbital space. It’s had a couple of unmanned flights putting it where NASA was before the first chimp flight in the late 1950’s. Rutan’s SpaceShipOne has had two brief sub-orbital flights putting it where NASA was immediately after Gus Grissom flew the second Mercury flight in 1961. Although admittedly it landed a bit better than the Liberty bell 7 did! ;-)

    (Plus is a lot more resusable & advanced in design than the Mercury capsule.)

  47. Joseph G

    I’d say “Welcome home”, but the ground is not a spaceship’s home.
    Poignant and true.
    I’m reminded of this:

    A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.

    –John A. Shedd

  48. Solitha

    –I’d say “Welcome home”, but the ground is not a spaceship’s home.–

    She was conceived and born of us; she served us, both carrying heroes, and as a “hero” in her own right.

    In retirement, she serves us still. New generations of children will look upon her, and dream… just as we, our parents, and/or our children have looked upon Saturn, Gemini, and the Rocket Gardens and dreamed.

    Home is where the heart is, and her heart is us.

  49. Skrim

    I would say “Welcome home”, for Discovery was not a spaceship. The Shuttle never was. The Shuttle was a shuttle – duh.

    Truth is, we’ve never built a real spaceship – something that’s built in space, is capable of manned interplanetary travel, and stays in space without landing on a planet’s surface. The ISS is manned but goes nowhere. The probe fleet goes places but is unmanned – they are explorers and vanguards of a future spacefaring civilization, but they are not ends in themselves.

    We could build a spaceship, but it would cost hundreds of billions, if not a trillion or more, to build something that can carry the supplies and propellant for a manned mission to Mars, with the requisite powerful engines (NTRs or MPDs/VASIMRs), with sufficient cooling, radiation shielding, etc. And so we don’t have a good reason to build a spaceship. Perhaps a permanent self-sufficient colony in space would have more of an incentive, but we are not yet capable of creating something like that either, and again, not motivated.

    So there’s a lot of ground to cover yet, and we haven’t gone far. The Shuttle was but one small chapter in our long slow walk to the stars.

  50. Messier Tidy Upper

    @49. Solitha : Well said, nice thought. :-)

    Incidentally, on the future for that dream & specifically NASA’s manned spaceflight program – whatever happened to NASA’s Plan B? :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/07/03/nasas-plan-b/

    Why wasn’t that option adopted instead of the Obama plan? :-(

    Anyone know?

  51. Messier Tidy Upper

    Aussie news report of the Discovery‘s final landing :

    http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8221881

    & here :

    http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8221887

    With video. (Can non-Aussies see this? Hope so. Let me know if not, please.) Plus here’s the space(dot)com specialist astronomy-space exploration news site’s item on this :

    http://www.space.com/11076-shuttle-discovery-final-landing-astronauts.html

    In case folks are interested / curious / want more. :-)

  52. Nigel Depledge

    Carl (34) said:

    The shuttles are truely humanity’s first real spaceships

    I disagree. The Apollo LEMs were our first true spaceships.

  53. Nigel Depledge

    JFB (42) said:

    And it distresses me that the unmanned program never gets any love.

    Erm . . . methinks you need to search the BABlog under “Cassini” and read some of the comments in those threads.

  54. Nigel Depledge

    Mike Mullen (43) said:

    While I understand the emotion let’s not lose sight of the fact that this a class of vehicle that should have been grounded and replaced at least 10 years ago.

    Let’s not forget that what NASA ended up with was a hideous compromise that was a long, long way from the original vision.

    The initial designs were for a small, lightweight vehicle that didn’t need an external tank or solid-fuel boosters. Hmmm … without those add-ons, we might not have lost Challenger or Columbia. Anyhow, it was (IIUC) the intervention of the US military in the design stage that gave us the Shuttle that we know so well. They insisted it be able to launch large satellites, so it got bigger, to the point where it needed a great deal of help to get itself into LEO.

    Then again, without the immense lifting capacity it had, Shuttle would not have been able to launch Hubble, so it ain’t all bad.

  55. Messier Tidy Upper

    @^ Nigel Depledge : Yes indeed. While the Shuttle was imperfect and had its flaws, it didn’t quite deliver all it originally promised, it was still one of the most successful spacecraft ever flown – & we owe it an awful lot as I’ve pointed out on other threads here in the past.

    @ 53. Nigel Depledge :

    The Apollo LEMs were our first true spaceships.

    I’d agree although I would’ve said the full Apollo spacecraft (CM, SM & LEM) counted, myself. :-)

    @54. Nigel Depledge :

    methinks you need to search the BABlog under “Cassini” and read some of the comments in those threads.

    Not just “Cassini” either – also the one’s involving the Mars Rovers, “Spirit” & “Opportunity” too. (As I linked at # 46 for example.)

    I love the unmanned space probes & all they’ve contributed as well.

    I don’t think many here would deny the role played and accomplishments of the robot spaceprobes – but I love manned space craft as well. There’s plenty of space ( ;-) ) to share and acknowledge both. :-)

  56. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (54) said:

    I don’t think many here would deny the role played and accomplishments of the robot spaceprobes – but I love manned space craft as well. There’s plenty of space to share and acknowledge both

    I agree.

    But not with that pun.

  57. Messier Tidy Upper

    While the Shuttle was imperfect and had its flaws – & didn’t quite deliver all it originally promised – it was still one of the most successful spacecraft ever flown – & we owe it an awful lot as I’ve pointed out on other threads here in the past.

    Like most recently here : (Expanded and modified version II follows)

    ****

    To see what I mean about the success of the Space Shuttle see :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_astronauts_by_name

    All those with the ‘STS’ after their names flew on the Shuttles. The third woman in space – and first American woman – Sally Ride and all the female US astronauts after her flew on the Shuttle. Same with African-Americans where all that have ever flown flew on the Shuttle starting with Guion “Guy” Bluford, Jr. The oldest astronaut John Glenn flew in the Space Shuttle aged 77 on his remarkable return to flight.

    Think of all those astronauts, all they’ve done on their flights, all they experienced and learnt and all they’ve given us afterwards.

    Think of the Hubble Space Telescope and all the knowledge and joy we’ve gained from that.

    Think of the photographs of Jupiter and moons captured by Galileo the maps and knowledge of Venus that captured by Magellan think of the long years of service we got from the unheralded by remarkable Ulysses spaceprobe which journeyed out of the ecliptic plane and over the poles of our Sun. All these three probes began their epic jouney’s in the Shuttle’s cargo bay.

    Think of the satellites the Shuttle launched and fixed, the components of the International Space Station hauled up and fixed in place Shuttle mission by Shuttle mission – complete with the ever-changing complement of astronaut crew.

    Think about all that. Plus so very much more as well. The spectacle of the Shuttle launches, the wonder and awe they bring. Look again at some of the Shuttle launch footage like that the Bad Astronomer recently posted here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/03/04/ride-an-srb-video-into-space/

    Or the vision of the Shuttle launch captured from a passenger jetliner posted on this blog .

    Reflect and mull over it all.

    Then say thankyou Space Shuttle. Thankyou.

    The Shuttle may not have been perfect, it may have disappointed us in some ways, but what it has given us, the joy it has brought us, the the things it has achieved are priceless.

    *****

    Modified and expanded from comment # 110 Draft I originally posted here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/03/03/space-leaders-to-congress-light-this-commercial-candle/#comment-365365

    in a recent thread – posted 5.55 am March 8th 2011.

  58. I didn’t read through all off of the comments but a couple of interesting things about Discovery that I recalled yesterday.

    Discovery flew all three “return to flight” missions: 1989, 2005 and 2006. These were the initial post Challenger and Columbia flights. Post Columbia had two “return to flight” missions after the first one hit a bird on the way up. DOH!

    On a personal note, it was watching Discovery launch that ignited my interest and fascination with space exploration. I had always had an interest in it but it went from interest to infatuation over night. I tried to go see the July 4th, 2006 launch but couldn’t make it. I hope I can see one of the final launches [assuming Atlantis gets the ‘go’].

    Discovery edges out as my favorite orbiter but I love them all. :)

  59. Messier Tidy Upper

    Or the vision of the Shuttle launch captured from a passenger jetliner posted on this blog .

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/02/26/amazing-shuttle-launch-video-from-an-airplane-window/

    Or the other one’s linked in my comment #34 there.

    Or check out this video on Vimeo – a new Shuttle flight to the ISS one (STS-131 ‘Discovery’ night launch ascent & summersault check up) that I’ve only now discovered myself – and an instant favourite :

    http://vimeo.com/11143399

    Also check the long list of Shuttle flights and what they’ve accomplished on wikipedia here :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_space_shuttle_missions

    for a sense (& more details) of what these spaceplanes achieved. :-)

    The Space Shuttle was designed for a number of reasons but perhaps the three main ones were :

    1. To make space travel routine and ordinary.

    It failed in that as its critics claim. Although that failure is still a partial success. The vast majority of Shuttle flights (& it has made well over a hundred of them) were indeed reasonably routine, “ordinary” and smooth – and thus were happily unmemorable thus sadly recieved little media coverage.

    2. It was designed to be the first reuseable spacecraft rather than a throw-away one-shot launch vehicle . Also to be the first true spaceplane taking off like a rocket and landing like an aircraft.

    The Shuttle suceeded in that objective. It proved the technique was possible and fairly effective. Okay, the External tanks are disposable but two thirds of the Shuttle – the Orbiters and the Solid Rocket Boosters are recovered and reused and the Shuttle proved that the concept of a spaceplane could work. The Russians copied this with their Buran design. We may well one day see others do the same.

    3. It was designed to be a space truck, a space workhorse carrying sizeable cargo – such as the Hubble Space telescope, Spacelab, segments of the International Space Station & so forth into orbit.

    It suceeded in doing all that – plus retrieving satellites, fixing and repeatedly upgrading Hubble & more.

    Two out of three ain’t bad. ;-)

    Yes, not perfect, yes the Shuttle had its flaws and some of the criticism against it may be be justified & yes, the Challenger and Columbia disasters occurred and claimed the lives of those who volunteered and strove to fly in them.

    But for all that, the Shuttle still rocks & is one of the most magnificent and advanced engineering marvels Humanity has ever constructed. I do love the Space Shuttles – & I’m not ashamed to say so.

    @ 59. Lewis : Me too! :-)

  60. Aubri

    It’s kind of funny that there are three orbiters left; one for Cape Canaveral, one for Houston, and one for the Smithsonian… just like the leftover Saturn Vs.

  61. Digital Atheist

    damnitall… more of my youth gone.

  62. jfb

    MTU @ 47

    IINM, Dragon’s scheduled for 11 unmanned flights ( COTS-2/3 and CRS) before they start putting people in it, which sounds reasonable to me. There isn’t a launcher (yet) to send it BEO, but by that same token there isn’t a mission to send people BEO. For all the money that was spent on the Constellation program, there isn’t a launcher or flyable spacecraft yet. For a fraction of that cost, SpaceX produced both and are flying them now. All that has to happen is to get both the F9 and the Dragon man-rated.

    I’m not claiming SpaceX can do no wrong, or that NASA can do no right; I’m simply claiming that the end of the Shuttle program is not the end of American manned space flight.

    As for the unmanned program not getting any love…yes, Phil and the BA crowd pimp Cassini and the MERs and all the others pretty enthusiastically, which I appreciate, but even here there’s a sense that the space program isn’t really doing anything worthwhile unless it’s sending people.

  63. tmac57

    Recent analysis of Shuttle risk data showed that the early flights (1 to 25)had about a 1:10 chance of failure -Yikes! Of course NASA didn’t know that then,but those crew members were incredibly brave to undertake what is an inherently dangerous mission,in the name of science.They also found that there was only a 7% chance of making it safely from the 26th to the 113th mission. The current risk of catastrophic failure is down to 1:90.Still pretty risky for most people’s blood,I would guess.You can view the NASA risk data here:
    http://hw.libsyn.com/p/3/0/a/30aafb8c2337eb80/NASAShuttleRiskReview-excerpt.pdf?sid=078dc3d5943aefa902aa80aa3fff5392&l_sid=18801&l_eid=&l_mid=2473160

  64. One Eyed Jack

    148 million miles

    Oil change every 3K miles? I do not want that Jiffy Lube bill.

  65. réalta fuar

    I mainly agree with tmac57 @64: My main reaction is “whew”. Now I only have to hold my breath for two more shuttle flights (I stopped watching liftoffs years ago). I don’t think the crews (or at least most of them) of the first 25 flights WOULD have flown had they known the danger though. Damn few pilots will fly ANYTHING if they think their chances of getting back is only 1 in 10 (attrition rates for allied pilots over Europe during WWII were not that high, and they were fighting a war, not acting as a truck to ferry satellites to orbit).

  66. adros47

    Phil,

    Great words! You have perfectly captured my sentiment in seeing the end of Discovery’s final flight. The world’s most complex and successful workhorse enters a wisful retirement.

    I wonder, has there ever been another fully functional spacecraft, still capable of flight, returned to Earth and retired?

  67. Floyd

    Since Discovery’s being retired, we REALLY need a new replacement, one that has far fewer throwaway parts.

    NASA hasn’t figured that out yet.

    Maybe Richard Branson will make the replacement, and not just as a “Virgin Airways” to take high rollers into space. Make it something useful for the long term, Mr. Branson.

  68. CraigM

    In 1983 or 84 I was doing a geology field camp north of L.A. and we saw Discovery fly over on piggyback on its way from Palmdale to Florida. We cheered. Discovery!

  69. Messier Tidy Upper

    @67. adros47 asked :

    I wonder, has there ever been another fully functional spacecraft, still capable of flight, returned to Earth and retired?

    Yes – Russia’s version of the Shuttle Buran :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buran_(spacecraft)

    Plus also the privateer spacecraft and Ansari X-prize winner, SpaceshipOne :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpaceShipOne

    Far less well known, but almost as impressive, the X-15 spaceplane :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-15

    Almost /pretty much qualifies in that category too. :-)

  70. Nigel Depledge

    JFB (63) said:

    even here there’s a sense that the space program isn’t really doing anything worthwhile unless it’s sending people.

    Actually, there is quite often a lot of dissension on this point.

    Many BABlogees are quite adamant that the manned programme is a waste of money, because many more missions can be launched for the same money using robotic probes.

    I think even those who are most supportive of the manned space programme also recognise the value of the unmanned missions such as the MERs and Cassini.

  71. Thea

    Let’s all stand up and salute the most legendary spacecraft NASA has ever built. (And the only one to ever get woodpeckers.)

  72. Mark K.

    This is the end of an era! Hopefully, a new and better type of craft will be in regular service soon.

  73. The part of me that grew up watching way too much Star Trek hopes that one day there will be a huge enclosed museum in orbit around the Earth, where school children can go to see Discovery and other historic space vehicles on permanent display, in zero G.

    Thanks, Big D. Enjoy your retirement.

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