Thursday, March 10, 2011

STS133: End of an Era for Discovery

Discovery Deploys Drogue chute.

After a journey of 5,304,140 miles and 202 orbits, shuttle Discovery finally touched down on the long runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After deorbiting, it's flight path brought it over my home town of Sarasota. A quick call to my folks back there got them ready to try to spot it. Unfortunately, while the skies were clear over Kennedy on the east coast of the state, the west coast had quite a cover of small cumulus clouds which made spotting the shuttle near impossible. But the shuttle made its presence known anyway. My parents called back to let me know that the sonic boom was heard and it shook the windows.

On final approach, wheels down...

Commander Steve Lindsey and pilot Eric Boe brought Discovery in for a beautiful touchdown. These guys make it look so easy, but there are countless hours spent training in aircraft and simulators to make sure everything goes right. Eventually Discovery rolled to a stop. A commemorative plaque will be placed on the runway where the nose wheel finally came to a halt.

Infra-red image showing heat signatures.

It's cleanup time.

Discovery was immediately surrounded by a swarm of over 50 vehicles ready to collect the crew and service the orbiter. Only this time, Discovery will not be prepped for another mission. This was the shuttle's 39th, and final, mission. With the ending of the STS program, the shuttles will be cleaned up and prepared for storage in museums around the country. I think Discovery is set to be donated to the Smithsonian, which means the Enterprise, currently displayed in Washington DC, will probably go to another facility.

The next shuttle launch will be the Endeavor on mission STS134. The launch is scheduled for April 19, 2011. After that we may see the Atlantis launch for the last shuttle mission.

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