Yesterday the Space Shuttle Discovery touched down at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida and completed it’s final mission. It brings to a close an amazing record of service which began with it’s delivery to NASA in October 1983 in an era where home computers were still 8-bit, the UK only had four TV channels, and Vauxhall were still building the Chevette in Ellesmere Port!
Discovery made 38 trips into space in all, deploying over 30 satellites (often two per mission), the Hubble Space Telescope as well docking with both Mir and the ISS to deliver and pick up astronauts. Nearly 250 crew rode aboard the shuttle over it’s 27 year history and the spaceship spent a total of 365 days in space. It was the first shuttle to fly again after the shuttle programme was threatened by the Challenger disaster of 1986 and Columbia in 2003. The total distance it flew is equivalent to 288 round trips to the moon.
With the shuttle programme drawing to a close and no direct replacement available it will be interesting to see what direction the US space programme will go in next – private startups like Elon Musk’s Space-X are becoming a viable option now that Obama has scrapped Constellation.
The space shuttles are amazing and iconic spacecraft and were a groundbreaking example of a reusable space plane. Time is running out to get over to Florida and see a launch – the final shuttle mission to deliver parts to the ISS is scheduled for June. The Discovery itself is now headed for the Smithsonian in Washington – somewhere very high on my list of places to visit.