Up, up, and away…

NASA’s most successful craft, the Space Shuttle Discovery, touches down safely after one of its 39 missions.

On Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010, the workhorse, all-star, go to player of the Space Shuttle fleet will make it’s final launch. This is akin to watching Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzsky’s final game…well their actual last games, I think those two had like five “final” games between them. Wednesday’s launch will be the last for the Space Shuttle Discovery, which made more flights and carried more crew than any other of the Space Shuttles in the fleet. Not only that, but Discovery twice was the craft that returned Americans to space flight after horrible tragedies (Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003). Discovery was also the shuttle that launched the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and carried out the second and third HST servicing missions.

Of the five Shuttles originally in the fleet (Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour), Discovery is the oldest and by far the most accomplished; its final flight on Wednesday will be its 39th. Not bad considering this one vehicle, designated Orbiter Vehicle-103 or OV-103, is over 25 years old. It was constructed jointly by Rockwell International and Boeing from 1979 to 1983. The shuttle is named after four British ships of exploration: HMS Discovery, one of the ships commanded by Captain James Cook during his third and final major voyage, 1776–1779; Henry Hudson’s Discovery, which he used in 1610–1611 to search for a Northwest Passage; the HMS Discovery, one of the ships which took Captain George Nares’ British Arctic Expedition of 1875–1876 to the North Pole; and RRS Discovery, a Royal Geographical Society research vessel which, under the command of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton, was the main ship of the 1901–1904 “Discovery Expedition” to Antarctica which is still preserved as a museum.

Discovery will be the first of the remaining shuttles to be decommissioned by NASA as the Obama administration continues with its plans to end the Shuttle program. After its retirement, it will be donated to the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum for public display and preservation as part of the national collection. Plans are for Discovery to replace Space Shuttle Enterprise (the first prototype shuttle built, which was never intended to actually fly in space) in the Smithsonian’s display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.

So now, as Discovery sits on the launch pad near Cape Canaveral, waiting for its final mission (STS-133, a mission to deliver a new multipurpose module and a logistics carrier to the International Space Station), this grateful American and fan of space exploration would like to thank Discovery for its years of service and reliability.

You, Discovery (OV-103), will have your number retired forever in the hearts of those who dream of one day journeying among the stars.

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