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Space Shuttle Discovery makes final journey to museum

Charles Black, Founder and CEO of Sen
Apr 17, 2012, 7:00 UTC

The Space Shuttle Discovery, having flown nearly 150 million miles in space, has entered its retirement home, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C.

Discovery entered the museum on April 19, 2012.

The shuttle left the Kennedy Space Center on April 17, flown atop a modified Boeing 747 aeroplane known as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Having landed at Washington Dulles Interational Airport the orbiter was transferred to the Udvar-Hazy Center, part of the National Air and Space Museum located a few miles south of the airport.

Discovery completed 39 missions and spent 365 days in space, travelling 148,221,675 miles and orbiting the Earth 5,830 times. Its last mission, STS-133, took place in March 2011.

Prototype shuttle Enterprise meets Discovery at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Enterprise makes way for Discovery at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Credit: NASA/Smithsonian Institution/Carolyn Russo

Discovery was one of five shuttles built for space - Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. There was also a prototype called Enterprise (see picture above), which is making way for Discovery in the museum. Two shuttles, Challenger and Columbia, were lost in disasters.

The final shuttle flight (Atlantis) took place in July 2011. Following the retirement of the shuttles, Russian Soyuz craft are used to transport astronauts to and from the space station, whilst the European ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) assists with cargo supplies.

NASA's strategy is to use commercial space companies to transport cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station, and yesterday held a Flight Readiness Review with SpaceX ahead of the company's demonstration flight scheduled for April 30.

NASA has awarded funds to four companies who are developing spacecraft - SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Blue Origin.

Whilst outsourcing the commute to and from the space station, NASA hopes its Orion spacecraft will be used for longer space missions. An unmanned test flight of Orion is currently scheduled for 2014.

Taking its place alongside Discovery in the museum will be a full size model of the Orion spacecraft.