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Posted Apr 17, 2012, 10:09 am
After nearly three decades of space travel, NASA's oldest shuttle, Discovery, flew into retirement on Tuesday, joining other museum relics at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
According to the Associated Press, Discovery left Florida's Kennedy Space Center at dawn, attached to a modified jumbo jet, headed toward Washington, D.C. More than 2,000 spectators, including former shuttle workers, tourists, journalists and VIPs, gathered to bid the shuttle farewell on its last flight.
Many of the United States' shuttles were retired last year after $100 billion construction of the International Space Station was completed, said Reuters. The focus will now shift to a new generation of spaceships that can go beyond the station's 240-mile-high orbit.
Discovery, the fleet leader of the three remaining shuttles, flew its last mission in March 2011 and will join other space artifacts at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center after a flyover of the US capital between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., said the AFP.
The other shuttles in the program included the Endeavour, the Atlantis, the prototype Enterprise and the two shuttles that were destroyed in flight, killing their crew: the Challenger and Columbia.
NASA's mission control said Discovery had spent 365 days in space and flown nearly 149 million miles during the course of 39 missions, according to the AFP.
Some of its most important missions included deploying the Hubble Space Telescope and the Ulysses solar probe. It was also the first spacecraft to recover satellites and visit the International Space Station, according to MSNBC.NASA and the Smithsonian plan to hold a welcoming ceremony for the space weary traveler on Thursday, which will include a parade with former mission commanders and the Enterprise.