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Discovery arcs into the sky after launching on a mission in 2009.
All shuttle missions launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Until 2007, Nasa avoided launching the craft in December-January time as it was feared its 1970s-era computers might suffer a glitch on New Year's Eve that would set the ship's clock back to zero.
On launch, the shuttle must hit a speed of almost 28,968 kph. After eight seconds, the craft is travelling at just 259kph; by the 60-second mark, it is speeding at 1,609kph. By the time the external tank has dropped away, the shuttle has burned more than 1.59 million kg of fuel. Once in orbit, it has a velocity of 17,500mph, making it the fastest winged vehicle in history.
His opinions were echoed by Atlantis astronaut Sandra Magnus before the final mission. "It built the space station, it's done science missions that ranged from taking the Spacelab up, to the big radar missions we've done, it's done astronomy, it's done biological science, materials science and then it's done satellite deploy, repair and retrieve," she said. "It's an incredible legacy this vehicle has given us."
Photo credit: Nasa