Historic legacy for NASA's pioneering shuttle Discovery (photos)
Accomplished NASA shuttle Discovery to retire following 39th mission.
The end of an era for NASA
This week's launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery's Mission STS-133 will mark the end of an era for NASA.
Since its inaugural launch on August 30, 1984 (Mission STS-41-D), Discovery has spent more than 322 days in space, completing 5,247 orbits around the Earth, delivering dozens of astronauts into the cosmos, and playing host to hundreds of research projects.
Here, Discovery blasts off from Launchpad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at dawn on April 5, 2010, during Mission STS-131.
Discovery releases the Hubble Space Telescope over the Carribean on April 25, 1990, during Mission STS-31.
The most powerful visual aid ever put into space, the Hubble has captured hundreds of spectacular optical, ultraviolet, and near-infrared images. The data gleaned has led to breakthroughs in astrophysics, including the accurate determination of the rate of the universe's expansion.
Senator Jake Garn, seen here aboard the KC-135 training plane at Johnson Space Center, flew on Discovery as a payload specialist during NASA Mission STS-51-D in 1985, making him the first sitting U.S. senator in space.
The Orbiting Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer telescope
The Orbiting Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer telescope, mounted on the Shuttle Pallet Satellite carrier and held on the end of Discovery's Remote Manipulator System arm.
A tool used to study the gaseous composition of interstellar clouds, the Orbiting Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer project studied the life cycle of stars, providing information on how stars are born and how they die.
The Ulysses spacecraft was deployed from Discovery on October 6, 1990, and eventually got closer to the Sun than any piece of research equipment had before. The Ulysses featured two propulsion modules, the Inertial Upper Stage and the Payload Assisted Module.
Tracking and Data Relay Satellite communications satellite
Discovery's 7th flight into space, STS-26, was launched September 29, 1988.
Functioning in geosynchronous orbit, 22,300 miles above Earth, the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite communications satellite, seen here, was launched during NASA's "Return to Flight" mission, following the Challenger disaster.
In this stunning, January 22, 1992, view of Discovery's payload bay, we can see the International Microgravity Laboratory 1 and Spacelab module, with a view of the Red Sea and part of the Sinai Peninsula in the background.
The blue cones of light known as mach diamonds seen below Discovery's three main engines during the launch of flight STS-120 on October 23, 2007. The diamonds are caused by shock waves created by the exhaust of an aerospace propulsion system.
Photo by:NASA/Tom Farrar, Scott Haun, Raphael Hernandez / Caption by:
Shuttle is silhouetted
Discovery ends its 26th flight, Mission STS-96, at Kennedy's brightly lit Shuttle Landing Facility, and is seen silhouetted while it deploys its drag chute.
Discovery prepares to land on Runway 15 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on June 14, 2008, following the STS-124 Mission. During the mission, Discovery delivered the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's large Japanese Pressurized Module and its remote manipulator system to the International Space Station.