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Discovery launching amidst fire and smoke Rising on twin columns of fire and creating rolling clouds of smoke, space shuttle Discovery blasts off Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. (NASA)

Discovery's Final Flight

The space shuttle Discovery docks at the International Space Station for the last time

By Tyrus Cukavac | March 2 , 2011
Astronaut Alvin Drew puts on the parachute for his launch-and-entry suit. (NASA/Sandra Joseph and Kevin O'Connell)
Astronaut Alvin Drew puts on the parachute for his launch-and-entry suit. (NASA/Sandra Joseph and Kevin O'Connell)

On Saturday, NASA’s shuttle Discovery docked for the final time in outer space at the International Space Station, or ISS.

Discovery was launched for the first time in 1984. Since then, this space shuttle has flown 143 million miles and completed 39 missions. This will be Discovery’s final mission. The American space agency NASA plans to send the shuttle to a museum after its final flight.

LAST LAUNCH

The ISS is a $100 billion project, with support from 16 countries. Currently, 12 researchers, representing Russia, Italy, and the United States, live on the station.

In the past, the United States was responsible for bringing supplies to the ISS and supporting astronauts working on the station. However, NASA’s space shuttle program is ending. American space exploration will now focus on longer missions such as landing on asteroids and Mars.

The shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis will also make their last missions later this year. These will be the 39-year-old space shuttle program’s final flights.

As part of its final mission, Discovery delivered 10 tons of supplies for the ISS.

Discovery’s six-person crew also brought the Robonaut 2 to the ISS. Nicknamed R2, this special robot looks and acts like a human. Astronauts will assemble R2 at the ISS over several months. R2 was specifically designed to help astronauts perform basic tasks in space.

Attaching the Permanent Multipurpose Module to the station is the mission’s primary objective. This module will act as a supply closet. The giant closet will give scientists more room to conduct experiments.

Two astronauts went on their first spacewalk on Monday. Astronauts Alvin Drew and Steve Bowen conducted basic repairs and also assisted the Japanese space program with a special project: fill a bottle with outer space. Back on Earth, the bottle will be displayed for the public.

The crew’s next spacewalk will likely be this week, although a leaky spacesuit could delay the astronauts.

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