Final mission date set for NASA's oldest shuttle

November 1st marks the end of 26 years of service for NASA's most venerable orbiter.
Written by John Herrman, Contributor on

NASA's venerable Discovery first launched in 1984, with two early communications satellites in tow. On November 1st, this same craft will carry vital equipment to a space station built by and carrying crew from two nations that, all those years ago, were still at odds.

As STS-133, the 39th flight for the Discovery, marks the end of a specific shuttle's life, it also reminds us of another approaching date: the February 26th launch of STS-134, when the Endeavor will also end its active life. 10 days later, at touchdown, the shuttle program will have drawn to a close forever.

The Discovery lived an exciting life, even by the standards of an orbital space craft. Its first charges were to furnish the world's communications infrastructure with satellites, a task that it continued to perform almost constantly until the launch of the ISS. It was the first shuttle to fly after the Challenger disintegrated during launch, and the first to follow the Columbia after its disintegration during reentry. It carried the massively prolific Hubble Space Telescope in 1990. It was brought John Glenn into space for a second time at the tender young age of 77. In the end, it will have made the trip to space more times than any other shuttle, by a fair margin.

With the end of the shuttle program comes the beginning of another--well, sort of. Until the true successor to the shuttle program--whatever remains of the Constellation program--replenishment of the ISS will be carried out by a combination of Russian craft and Falcon rockets, designed by private spaceflight firm SpaceX.

In any case, if you've never witnessed a shuttle launch, your time is running out. (Trust me, they're spectacular.) The launch will take place at Kennedy Space Center; the Discovery is already docked at the launchpad.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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