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US Shuttle makes historic last landing

world Updated: Mar 10, 2011 13:52 IST
AFP
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The oldest and most traveled space shuttle, Discovery, landed back on Earth on Wednesday after its final space flight and will now end its days as a museum piece to delight the crowds.

The shuttle cruised onto the runway at Kennedy Space Center at 1657 GMT, wrapping up a rich, 27-year career in spaceflight that has spanned more distance and endured longer than any of the remaining three US shuttles.

Discovery's arrival back on Earth marks the beginning of the end for the three-decade old US shuttle program, which will formally end after Endeavour and Atlantis take their final spaceflights in the coming months.

"This legend has spent 365 days in space," NASA mission control in Houston said, noting that over the course of its 39 missions, Discovery has logged almost 149 million miles (241 million kilometers).

Discovery's last trip to the International Space Station was initially scheduled to last 11 days but was extended to 13 so that astronauts could work on repairs and install a spare room.

The new permanent module at the orbiting lab adds 21 by 15 feet (6.5 by 4.5 meters) of extra room for storage and experiments.

Astronauts also brought the first humanoid robot to the International Space Station (ISS), though it spent most of its time wrapped in packing materials and will not become fully operational for some time.

NASA postponed plans to roll out the shuttle Endeavour to launch pad 39A on Wednesday evening, shortly after Discovery's landing, saying the delay would be "at least 24 hours due to predictions of unfavorable weather."

Endeavour is to be commanded by astronaut Mark Kelly, whose lawmaker wife Gabrielle Giffords is recovering from a bullet to the head, after a gunman went on a deadly rampage at a political meeting she was holding at a grocery store.

Kelly has said his wife is undergoing a grueling schedule of rehabilitation exercises and he hopes she will be well enough to attend the launch April 19 at Kennedy Space Center.

The shuttle Atlantis is scheduled for its final flight on June 28, which would mark the last shuttle mission ever.

After that, the sole method of transport to and from the ISS will be via Russia's Soyuz space capsules, which can carry three people at a time.

Discovery has broken new ground multiple times since it first launched in 1984.

It transported the Hubble Space telescope, was the first shuttle to be commanded by a female astronaut and the first to rendezvous with the Russian Mir Space Station.

The shuttle was also the first to return to space after two major disasters, the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the Columbia disaster in 2003 when the shuttle broke up on its return toward Earth.

One shuttle is already in a museum outside the US capital, Washington. Enterprise never flew in space but was developed as a prototype for the other five shuttles in the original fleet.

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