“For the final time: Wheels stop”

Space Shuttle Discovery, the oldest and most experienced shuttle in the fleet has come home, one final time.

Endeavor and Atlantis are still scheduled for their own missions, but Discovery marks the beginning of the end for a 30-year era at NASA.

Discovery Retrospective from NASA

To get an idea of what she’s accomplished, look at it this way:

  • Spent a just over a year in space (365 days, 12 hours, 53 minutes, 34 seconds)
  • Flown a distance equivalent to 1.5 trips to the Sun.

Some of the milestones for Discovery:

Aug. 30, 1984 – Maiden Flight

Sept. 29, 1988 – Return to Flight after Challenger accident

April 24, 1990 – Launch of Hubble Space Telescope

Feb. 3, 1994 – First flight of a Russian cosmonaut on a shuttle

Feb. 3, 1995 – First Mir rendezvous; first female pilot

Feb. 11, 1997 – Highest altitude known for a shuttle flight

June 2, 1998 – Final shuttle-Mir docking

Oct. 29, 1998 – Flight to return John Glenn to orbit as oldest human to fly in space

Oct. 11, 2000 – Z1 Integrated Truss Structure and PMA-3 to the International Space Station

March 8, 2001 – First ISS crew rotation

July 26, 2005 – Return to Flight after Columbia accident

Dec. 9, 2006 – P5 Truss installed

May 31, 2008 – Delivery of Japan’s Kibo Laboratory to ISS

March 15, 2009 – Completed ISS Integrated Truss Segment

August 28, 2009 – Final use of the shuttle for full ISS crew rotation

And some damn impressive numbers:

Total miles traveled: 148,221,675

Total time in orbit: 365 days, 12 hours, 53 minutes, 34 seconds

Total orbits: 5,830

Total flights: 39

Total crew members: 246

Mir dockings: 1

International Space Station dockings: 13


12 replies on ““For the final time: Wheels stop””

  1. Phil Plait, at the Bad Astronomy Blog said it best, I think:

    I’d say “Welcome home”, but the ground is not a spaceship’s home.>/i>

  2. Total miles traveled: 148,221,675

    Do they get aeroplan rewards or air miles for that?

  3. Based off that data, how much “younger” is the shuttle than it would otherwise be if it had never left the ground?

    I seem to recall there were some astronauts who were twins, their names escape me, and they kept track of how much their age differed because of relativity. I may have to Google for the details later but I’m short on time at the moment.

  4. interesting question, you piqued my curiosity. Google yielded the answer in under 10 seconds, see this. A year on orbit at Shuttle / ISS / MIR altitudes results in around 4 seconds of time dilation.

  5. D’oh, I screwed up how the HTML above looks, sorry. At least the link still works.

    BTW your twin astronauts are Scott and Mark Kelly, the latter being the husband of the Congresswoman from Arizona who was shot recently. Not to speak ill of those who have undergone misfortune, but I have some real heartburn about how those two guys have been “handled” by NASA. The original plan was for Scott to command the ISS while Mark commanded the last flight of Endeavour to the ISS, which at that time was supposed to be the last Shuttle flight. (Another flight by Atlantis was brokered in the meantime as pure pork-barrel job-creation politics to the Florida congressional delegates.) Their planned “final handshake” was nothing but a planned stunt, pure and simple, and I am personally appalled that NASA has stooped to such lows to try and drum up interest in ISS. The public generally couldn’t care less about ISS, which is basically just boring holes in the low-earth-orbit sky while the astronaut’s bones decalcify, with emphasis on “boring”.

    Another aspect on Mark Kelly, tho, is that he met Giffords in 2003 on an overseas trip with her to China while she was a state rep / state senator in Arizona, divorced his wife Amelia in Nov 2004, then married Giffords in 2007 at about the same time she beccame a US Senator. He then commanded his third shuttle mission in 2008. She rose to be the ranking member of the Senate Commitee on Sci / Space / Tech with oversight over NASA about the time Kelly was assigned to be the commander of the (then) final Shuttle flight to fly in a few months from now, his FOURTH mission. Read between the lines here, remembering that the government ethics standard is to avoid even the APPEARANCE of impropriety. I am sure Mark Kelly is a great man but it takes some real balls to follow a path like this in the public limelight.

  6. Just a quick comment on the final Atlantis flight. It’s not a pork-barrel job (hell the thing is on its deathbed, why prolong the inevitable). It’s a commitment to launch the AMS experiment, which will be the only physics/astrophysics experiment in space with a magnet (big, heavy, needs shuttle to launch). AMS was originally bumped due to the Columbia disaster in 2003. The commitment to launch it is essentially political pull by a few very senior physicists. They’re a dying breed, left from WWII when physics was revered. Now physics is just another political mouth to feed. AMS will, in my opinion, be the only worthwhile experiment on the ISS.

    I don’t understand your beef with Kelly in the second paragraph. It’s the revolving door of government and influence, probably only annoying to other astronauts. In some way it makes sense, with an astronaut husband, she is probably more informed than other congress critters. Oh, if only I had gone for the astronaut corps, I could have been one of the 1000 sitting on the sideline too. The future is in the private sector.

    • I am a physics nut first and formost and I agree TOTALLY that the AMS is going to be the only worthwhile experiment on the ISS. I am REALLY glad that NASA is flying it….on Endeavour, the next flight on the schedule, the one commanded by Mark Kelly.

      All Atlantis will be carrying is frozen pizzas and clean underwear at a cost of $600 million. Quote from last week’s Aviation Week story: William Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for space operations, says Atlantis can deliver enough cargo—“food, water, some components, . . . a lot of little dogs and cats, nothing special—to sustain a six-person station crew and keep them working at full tilt through 2012, even if there are no commercial cargo deliveries.”

      I stand by my statement that flying Atlantis as the last flight is a $600 million job-programs sop to the Florida congressional delegation. I personally would rather NASA fund the commercial cargo companies like SpaceX with another $600 million in 2011 to assure their success instead of putting it into one last what-the-hell-let’s-fly-Atlantis-one-last-unplanned-time-just-because-we’ve-got-the-ET-and-SRBs-to-do-it flight.

      As for Mark Kelly and gabrielle Giffords, I just think that if your spouse is the ranking US Senator on the comimttee which has oversight of your employer, a conflict of interest exists to then put your name in the hat for consideration to fly the highest proile shuttle flight in decades (the putative last one) when you’ve already flown three times and there are others in the astronaut corps that haven’t even flown once. You think anybody at NASA is going to risk pissing off an oversight US Senator by NOT giving her husband The E Ticket one last time if he’s asking for it? You believe them when they say it had absolutely no impact on the crew selection decision? I just find it hard to swallow, personally, and NASA already has too many massive, horrendous conflicts of interest in it now. ATK and near-mandated use of abysmal Isp and reliability solid rockets in Ares / post-Constellation heavy lift, for example…but that’s another rant for another day.

  7. “food, water, some components, . . . a lot of little dogs and cats, nothing special—to sustain a six-person station crew and keep them working at full tilt through 2012, even if there are no commercial cargo deliveries.”

    Other things aside, that quote struck me funny… sounds like they’re eating dogs and cats up there. What’s that, 6 months of Chinese food? :-)

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