Monthly Archives: March 2011


The Final Mission:

An amazing achievement and the end of an era
We will never see anything like this again in future 

Space shuttle Discovery lifted off last Thursday on its final mission carrying supplies and spare parts to the International Space Station. The shuttle takes its name from four British ships of exploration named Discovery, primarily one of the ships commanded by Captain James Cook.

The shuttle carried a storage room for the space station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations nearing completion after more than a decade of construction 354km above the Earth.

Discovery also transported a platform to house spare parts outside the station and equipment and supplies. The cargo included a humanoid robot, known as Robonaut 2 that will be set up in the U.S. laboratory for a trial run.


The flight was the 39th and final space mission for NASA’s oldest surviving orbiter / shuttles Columbia and Challenger were lost in accidents that claimed the lives of 14 astronauts.

One of Discovery’s most famous missions on 24 April 1990 was the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. The second and third Hubble service missions were also conducted by Discovery. It has also launched the Ulysses probe and three TDRS satellites. Discovery has been chosen twice as the return to flight orbiter, first in 1988 as the return to flight orbiter after the 1986 Challenger disaster, and then for the twin return to flight missions in July 2005 and July 2006 after the 2003 Columbia disaster. Discovery also carried Project Mercury astronaut John Glenn, who was 77 at the time, back into space during STS-95 on October 29, 1998, making him the oldest human being to venture into space.


Discovery will have flown 39 flights in over 27 years, completed over 5,247 orbits, and spent 329 days in orbit. Discovery is the orbiter fleet leader, having flown more flights than any other orbiter in the fleet, including four in 1985 alone. Discovery flew all three “return to flight” missions after the Challenger and Columbia disasters in 1988, in 2005, and 2006.

The remaining three ships are being retired due to high operational costs and to free up money to develop new vehicles capable of travelling beyond the space station’s orbit.


NASA plans to launch shuttle Endeavour on its final flight in April 2011 and end the programme with a final cargo haul to the station over the summer aboard Atlantis, though funding for that mission has not yet been allotted. This coming flight will be the end of a 30-year programme that achieved much for our world. The five-man, one-woman crew are scheduled to spend 11 days in orbit.

Summary of human spaceflights:

Year of Flt  Russia  United States  China Total
1961–1970 16 25   41
1971–1980 30 8   38
1981–1990 24 37   61
1991–2000 20 63   83
2001–2010 24 34 3 61
Total 114 167 3 284