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The end of an era for NASA

Into the blue


Robotic probe Ulysses

Senator Jake Garn on the KC-135

The Orbiting Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer telescope



Tracking and Data Relay Satellite communications satellite

Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite

First female pilot

Discovery's payload bay, showing Spacelab

Mach diamonds

Shuttle is silhouetted

Galaxy cluster Abell 1689


Hubble sets sail

Underside thermal protection

John Glenn

Galaxy NGC 300

Floating over the South Pacific

International Space Station

Boomerang Nebula's symmetrical clouds

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Solar array experiment panel

Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module

Forward Reaction Control System

Discovery will be the first of NASA's shuttle fleet to retire

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.
Caption by / Photo by Flickr user chagood
Discovery approaches the International Space Station on October 25, 2007, with Earth's blue waters and white clouds below.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
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.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
The robotic probe Ulysses was deployed from Discovery in 1990 to study the sun. Ulysses' odyssey ultimately lasted more than 18 years and yielded valuable new knowledge about our local star.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
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.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
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.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
Discovery lifts off Pad B at the Kennedy Space Center on September 12, 1993, to begin Mission STS-51.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
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.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
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.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
In 1992, during mission STS-48, the Discovery launched the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite.

Ten sensors and measuring instruments aboard the UARS conducted the most detailed assessment ever of Earth's troposphere, the upper level of the planet's atmosphere, including the ozone layer.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
Eileen Collins was the first woman to ever pilot a Space Shuttle when she flew Discovery in 1995 during Mission STS-63. During the mission, Discovery docked with the Russian space station Mir.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
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.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
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.
Caption by / Photo by NASA/Tom Farrar, Scott Haun, Raphael Hernandez
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.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
The galaxy cluster Abell 1689, photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Caption by / Photo by NASA, ESA, E. Jullo (JPL/LAM), P. Natarajan (Yale), and J-P. Kneib (LAM)
The LEASAT satellite series, which would eventually provide worldwide communications-satellite services to the Department of Defense.

LEASAT 1 was launched during Discovery's first mission, STS-41-D, on August 30, 1984.
Caption by / Photo by Boeing
Cargo bay camera's view of the Hubble Space Telescope when it was released during Mission STS-31 on April 25, 1990.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
Discovery's underside thermal protection tiles can be seen in this image taken during Mission STS-114's third session of extravehicular activities in 2005.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
In 1998, during Discovery Mission STS-95, 77-year-old John Glenn became the oldest person ever to visit space.

Caption by / Photo by NASA
Galaxy NGC 300, in a sharp image from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys.

NGC 300 lies 6.5 million light years away. The image spans about 7,500 light years across and highlights Hubble's unique ability to distinguish so many stars in a densely packed galaxy.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
NASA Astronaut Mark C. Lee floats alongside Discovery on September 16, 1994, high over the South Pacific.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
The International Space Station is the largest human-made object ever to orbit the Earth, and Discovery has performed both research and ISS assembly missions during its nearly 30-year career in space.
Caption by / Photo by STS-114 Crew, NASA
This Hubble image shows the Boomerang Nebula's symmetrical clouds, which are created by high-speed winds of gas and dust blowing from an aging star at speeds of nearly 600,000 kilometers per hour.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
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.
Caption by / Photo by NASA/Kevin O'Connell, Scott Haun
The solar array experiment panel for the OAST-1 payload, a package of several advanced space technology experiments, onboard the Discovery on September 6, 1984.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
The Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, one of the pressurized modules that carry equipment, experiments, and supplies, is seen in Discovery's payload bay during Mission STS-128.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
Workers in the Orbiter Processing Facility watch as Discovery's Forward Reaction Control System is lowered into position in preparation for Mission STS-114.

The Forward Reaction Control System provides the thrust for pitch, yaw, and roll.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
This fish-eye view shows off Discovery's cockpit as it was configured for the STS-95 Mission. Commander Curtis Brown's seat is on the left, with Pilot Steve Lindsey's on the right.

On several occasions, Discovery has been the first shuttle to venture into new territory. And as it ventures toward retirement, the legendary vehicle makes history once again.

Following its return from its current mission, which, after many months of delays is set to launch this week, Discovery will be the first of NASA's shuttle fleet to be put out to pasture.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
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