Discovery has circled the globe more than 5600 times and logged 230 million kilometres over its 352 days in space. Today, she left earth for the final time and will rack up more than a year in space in total. She’s an old girl, even for an aircraft, which in reality, she’s not. Thirty years and 39 launches is a long time.
Even today after having her launch delayed by almost 3 months due to flaws being discovered in her liquid fuel tank, there were last second delays with complex computer management systems, but leave she did, if not bang on time, at the edge of the relevant ‘window’. Subtle adjustments will be made to her orbit such that she still manages to catch up with the International Space Station on time 04:16am, AEST Sunday. Undocking is a week later, with deorbit scheduled for 21:30 AEST Monday 7 March. From the end of the longest runway on the planet, it’s off to NASA’s Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Orbiters Endeavour and Atlantis are yet to be appointed to their retirement ‘homes’ although Endeavour is rumoured to be heading to March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California and The National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio has declared an interest in obtaining an orbiter to exhibit, and is especially keen on securing Atlantis, owing to her history as the main orbiter used for US Air Force and Department of Defence missions.
Atlantis is programmed to fly for the final time, 28 June 2011 as STS-135, while Endeavour will leave for orbit no earlier than 19 April 2011 as STS-134.