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NASA's space shuttle Discovery takes last flight (photos)

With today's final launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery, just two shuttle missions remain before the end of the 30-year-old program.

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James Martin

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The Exploration Center at NASA Ames

A crowd of a few hundred people gathered today at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., at the NASA Ames Research Center to view the final launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery.
The Exploration Center at NASA Ames was open to the public for a special prelaunch program celebrating the history of Discovery, the first of NASA's three remaining shuttles to be retired.
Guest speakers for today's historic launch included Sid Sun, who discussed the life sciences experiments that are traveling aboard Discovery, and Matt Deans (seen here answering students' questions), who talked about Ames' role in the development of Robonaut and other space-exploration robotics.
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Discovery will deliver the EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 4

Discovery is delivering the EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 4, a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, along with critical spare components, to the International Space Station.
With 9 minutes to go before liftoff, a crowd at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., watches a live feed from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
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About 200 on hand

About 200 people came out to the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., to watch the launch of the final Discovery mission.
The winding down of the space shuttle program seems to have renewed interest in the shuttle. NASA staff said more people were in attendance today than for previous launch watching events.
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Former astronaut Bo Bobko

Former astronaut Karol J. 'Bo' Bobko, who flew on missions STS-6, STS-51D, and STS-51J, was on hand to give insightful commentary during the mission countdown activities, providing details of his personal experience with shuttle launch preparations and liftoff.
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Gaseous Oxygen Vent Hood

With 2 minutes and 30 seconds to go before launch, the Gaseous Oxygen Vent Hood, which pumps heated gaseous nitrogen into the hood to warm the liquid oxygen vent system, is retracted to prevent oxygen vapors exiting the vent louvers from condensing water vapor in the surrounding air into potentially damaging ice.
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Bobko

NASA's feed, broadcast on the big screen at NASA Ames, included footage from inside mission control back at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where Discovery lifted off today from launchpad 39A.
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Countdown begins

As the countdown begins, the initial engines ignite, and the shuttle begins to roar and shake, Bobko recounts his own liftoff experiences as a shuttle astronaut.
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Liftoff

At 0 seconds, the two Solid Rocket Boosters, each with a thrust of approximately 3,300,000 pounds, are ignited, providing the main thrust to lift the space shuttle off the pad and up to an altitude of about 150,000 feet--24 miles high.
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Gaining

Each of the two Solid Rocket Boosters on the space shuttle carries more than 1 million pounds of solid propellant, and during liftoff each booster burns about 10 tons of fuel per second. Just a few minutes after launch, Discovery is traveling about 4,000 mph, and it soon accelerates to 17,500 mph to remain in orbit.
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Moments before separation

Everyone watches as Discovery continues to climb higher into space.
With the craft now more than 60 miles up, Bobko gives a play by play of the astronauts' experience moments before the separation of the external fuel tank.
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Destiny Lab

Visitors explore a full-scale model of the Destiny Lab portion of the International Space Station, the primary U.S. research facility, with experiments in human life science, materials research, and Earth observations.
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Exploration Center

Students had the opportunity to interact with a few of the exhibits at the NASA Ames Exploration Center following the launch, including this gloved space lab.
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NASA Ames Research Center

The NASA Ames Research Center's Exploration Center, where visitors watched the live launch of the final Space Shuttle Discovery mission.
Before the end of the 30-year shuttle program, two missions remain, first one by Atlantis and then another by Endeavour.

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