Life On Earth
Shuttle Discovery Lands After Final Voyage
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida | Wed Mar 9, 2011 12:24pm EST
(Reuters) - The space shuttle Discovery capped a successful 13-day spaceflight with a smooth landing in Florida on Wednesday, ending a 27-year flying career for NASA's most-traveled spaceship as the agency prepares for an uncertain future.
With commander Steven Lindsey at the controls, Discovery touched down at 11:57 a.m. EST (1657 GMT) to wrap a cargo run and construction mission at the International Space Station.
Discovery accumulated 365 days in orbit over 39 missions. It will now be prepared for display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Sister ships Endeavour and Atlantis will have their finales in April and June respectively, delivering the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector and a year's worth of supplies to the station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations that has been under construction 220 miles above Earth since 1998.
Two other shuttles were destroyed in accidents. Challenger broke apart over the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff on January 28, 1986, killing seven astronauts. Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere over Texas on February 1, 2003, killing seven more astronauts.
The United States is ending the 30-year-old shuttle program due to high operating costs and to free up funds to begin work on new spaceship's that can travel to the moon, asteroids and other destinations beyond the station's orbit. Congress, however, has not yet allocated funds to start new programs.
During its final mission, Discovery, NASA's oldest surviving spaceship, delivered a combination storage room-research lab to the station, as well as an external platform to house large spare parts.
It also carried tons of supplies and science gear, including a prototype humanoid robot built in partnership with General Motors.
The United States will now rely on the Russian government to launch astronauts to the space station, although it hopes to eventually buy rides from commercial companies, if any develop the capability.
Cargo runs will be handled by Russia, Europe and Japan, as well as two U.S. firms, Space Exploration Technologies and Orbital Sciences Corp.
(Editing by Jane Sutton)
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