Video: Discovery makes final landing

  1. Closed captioning of: Discovery makes final landing

    >>> live pictures of the shuttle discovery returning to treturn ing from the international space station . logging many days in space over three decades. the next step of the space program is pushing the pause button. jay, we're listening to nasa control there. give us details about discovery coming down. this has to be a little bittersweet.

    >> the shuttle is about 20 miles out. as everybody said the final touchdown for discovery . this shuttle has been the workhorse of the fleet. it has flown 39 times and marking the end of its mission today of the 26.5 years it has been flying. it has spent one full year in space. there are a lot of feelings here that are mostly sad. this is first shuttle to actually retire. it is discovery , as i said, the workhorse. and the realization is here today to thousands of space employees that this is the end. and i think that the biggest problem that the space workers have here is we don't have -- we being the united states of america , we do not have a spacecraft that can fly american astronauts to replace it. they are retiring it before we have another one to fly.

    >> as i understand it, museums are in a bidding war for the shutt shuttles. don't tell anybody else but discovery will go to smithsonian. don't let anybody else know that.

    >> we will keep it between you and me.

    >> just you and i.

    >> what about the other shuttles?

    >> well, there is a lot of bids for the other shuttles. that's endeavour and atlantis. everybody feels that the visitor's center here at the kennedy space center , the launching pads here should get one of them. and of course, mission control in houston feels they should get one of them. and you know, after they have flown these all these years, i don't find much argument with that. i have a feeling that the kennedy space center , the he will make the announcement on those two. make it all official.

    >> and right now we're 50 seconds out.

    >> for those that are just joining us, we are watching the 39th and final landing of the discovery at the kennedy space center there. roughly 50 seconds out, maybe almost 40 seconds out now.

    >> we're coming down 34. we could take it right now. we're listening to josh at mission control . you can see the shuttle discovery on its final approach to its launch site here at the kennedy space center this is the final mission of 39 missions. there comes the gear down. it is now over the runway and making its approach. everything is smooth. everything is perfect. it's flying into a head wind and we will see it make its touchdown. it's beautiful. the gear is down and discovery is moving about 95 miles per hour. touchdown of the gear. now here will come the deployment of the drag chute .

    >> to the ship that has led the way time and time again, we say farewell discovery .

    >> welcome home , discovery .

    >> i second that. welcome home . thank you so much for joining us for the hour. we watch this beautiful shot of discovery returning home. we will be back with much more in the next hour. contessa brewer picks up. stay

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/9/2011 2:30:29 PM ET 2011-03-09T19:30:29

Discovery ended its career as the world's most-flown spaceship Wednesday, returning from orbit for the last time and taking off in a new direction as a museum piece.

NASA's oldest shuttle swooped through a mostly clear noontime sky to an on-time touchdown at its home base.

"To the ship that has led the way time and time again, we say, 'Farewell Discovery,'" Mission Control commentator Josh Byerly declared.

Florida's spaceport was packed with shuttle program workers, journalists and even some schoolchildren eager to see history in the making.

The six astronauts on board went through their landing checklists with the sad realization that no one would ever ride Discovery again. They said during their 13-day space station delivery mission that they expected that to hit them hard when the shuttle came to a stop on the runway.

At three minutes before noon ET, Discovery landed and ceased being a reusable rocketship.

"And Houston, Discovery. For the final time, wheels stop," Discovery's commander Steven Lindsey called out when the shuttle rolled to a halt. He was the last member of the crew to climb out of the ship.

After his final walkaround as a space shuttle skipper, Lindsey said the sense of finality was sinking in. "As the minutes pass, I'm actually getting sadder and sadder about this being the last flight," he told reporters.

All-time record
Even after shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis make their final voyages in the coming months, Discovery will still hold the all-time record with 39 missions, 148 million miles (238 million kilometers), 5,830 orbits of Earth and 365 days spent in space. All that was achieved in less than 27 years.

Discovery now leads the way to retirement as NASA winds down the 30-year shuttle program in favor of interplanetary travel.

NASA estimates it will take several months of work before Discovery is ready to head to the Smithsonian Institution. The main engines will have to be removed, and all the hazardous materials will have to be taken out. Discovery will make its last 750-mile (1,200-kilometer) journey as an inert artifact, strapped to the top of a jumbo jet.

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Throughout the final spaceflight, Lindsey and his crew marveled at how well Discovery was performing. They noted that the spacecraft was going into retirement still "at the top of her game."

"A dream machine," Lindsey's co-pilot, Eric Boe, observed on the eve of landing.

Discovery's last mission ended up being flawless, despite a four-month grounding for fuel tank repairs. After the landing, Lindsey said he marveled at the fact that the spaceship came back to Earth in seemingly perfect condition. "I have never seen an airplane able to do that," he said.

Perhaps more than any other shuttle, Discovery consistently delivered.

It made its debut in 1984 following shuttles Columbia and Challenger, dispatched the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, flew the first shuttle rendezvous to Russia's Mir space station and carried the first female shuttle pilot in 1995, and gave another ride into space to John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, in 1998.

It got NASA flying again, in 1988 and 2005, following the Challenger and Columbia disasters. And it flew 13 times to the International Space Station, more than any other craft. On its last trip, it delivered a new storage compartment packed with supplies and a humanoid robot.

"You're sad to see her be retired, but at the same time, it's really a pride thing. We got her back OK. It was a beautiful mission," said Ken Smith, a Boeing propulsion manager who monitored the shuttle's systems from the landing strip. Then he added, "We've got two more to fly."

'Bittersweet' moment
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former shuttle commander, led the welcoming party for Discovery. In a statement issued after landing, he praised the shuttle and the program behind it.

"Discovery is an amazing spacecraft and she has served her country well," Bolden said in the statement. "The success of this mission and those that came before it is a testament to the diligence and determination of everyone who has worked on Discovery and the space shuttle program over these many years. As we celebrate the many accomplishments of this magnificent ship, we look forward to an exciting new era of human spaceflight that lies ahead."

On the runway, Bolden told reporters that Discovery had "a very special place" in his heart because he rode it into orbit for two of his four shuttle missions, including his last trip into space in 1994.

"This is very bittersweet for all of us," he said.

Bolden is due to announce the final homes for Endeavour and Atlantis on April 12 — 30 years to the day since Columbia soared on the first shuttle flight. He may also reveal whether the test shuttle Enterprise, which is currently on display at the Smithsonian, will be moved to a new venue to make way for Discovery.

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NASA planned to move Endeavour out to the launch pad Wednesday night for its April 19 liftoff, but delayed the move until Thursday because bad weather was expected. The mission, which is due to deliver the $1.5 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the space station, will be commanded by the husband of wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Mark Kelly.

Kelly's identical twin brother, Scott, is currently the skipper of the space station; he returns to Earth next week on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Atlantis is slated to deliver a huge batch of supplies to the space station at the end of June, marking the last mission of the shuttle program.

NASA is under presidential direction to spread its wings beyond low-Earth orbit. The goal is to send astronauts to an asteroid and then Mars in the decades ahead. There is not enough money for NASA to achieve that and maintain the shuttle program at the same time. As a result, the shuttles will stop flying this summer after 30 years.

American astronauts will keep hitching rides to the space station on Russian capsules, until private companies are able to provide taxi service to and from orbit. NASA expects to get another nine years at least out of the space station.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and msnbc.com.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Photos: Space shuttle Discovery highlights

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  1. The space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center on its maiden trip into space, Aug. 30, 1984. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Mission specialist Richard M. Mullane shaves on board the shuttle Discovery on its maiden voyage STS-41D, on Sept. 1, 1984. (NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Discovery climbs into orbit after launch on July 26, 2005, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The seven-person international crew departed for a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. (Bob Pearson / AFP / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. First lady Laura Bush applauds during the liftoff of Discovery on July 26, 2005, in the stands at the Kennedy Space Center's Banana Creek viewing site in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, right, and Deputy Associate Administrator Michael Kostelnik, left, watch the Discovery launch from the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 26, 2005. (Bill Ingalls / AFP / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Tourists cheer at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at the sight of the space shuttle Discovery lifting off on Tuesday, July 26, 2005. (Scott Audette / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Astronaut Stephen Robinson, anchored to a foot restraint on the International Space Station's Canadarm2, participates in the mission's third spacewalk on Aug. 3, 2005. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. NASA employee Melinda Smith watches from Cape Canaveral, Fla., as the Discovery touches down at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Aug. 9, 2005. Unfavorable weather conditions in Florida caused NASA to switch landing sites to the base. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Chigasaki residents celebrate the U.S. space shuttle Discovery's safe return to Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert on Aug. 9, 2005, at Hamasuka Junior High School in Chigasaki, west of Tokyo. Chigasaki is the hometown of Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, one of seven crew members. (Koji Sasahara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The crew of mission STS-114 -- mission specialist Stephen Robinson, commander Eileen Collins, mission specialists Andrew Thomas, Wendy Lawrence, Soichi Noguchi and Charles Camarda, and pilot James Kelly -- gather in front of Discovery after their landing on Aug. 9, 2005, at Edwards Air Force Base in California. (NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Discovery's nose landing gear was photographed by the crew on the International Space Station on July 28, 2005, as it did a pitch maneuver for tile inspection before docking. The crew of Discovery moved onboard the space station after carrying out new shuttle damage checks as ordered by NASA after a suspension of flights over safety concerns. NASA halted the program again after Discovery's return because of debris that fell off during its launch. (Nasa Photo / AFP / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Discovery hitches a ride from California to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a special 747 carrier aircraft on Aug. 19, 2005. The shuttle landed in California on Aug. 9 as weather conditions prevented it from landing at Cape Canaveral, Fla., as originally planned. Discovery's mission was the first flight for the shuttle since Columbia broke upon re-entry in February 2003. (Lori Losey / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Astronaut Piers J. Sellers, STS-121 mission specialist, wears a training version of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit while participating in a simulation at Johnson Space Center. The RMS has a 50-foot boom extension, called the Orbiter Boom Sensor System, attached. It would be used to reach beneath the orbiter to access tiles. Lora Bailey, right, manager of JSC Engineering Tile Repair, assisted Sellers. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Workers observe the Discovery before it begins its six-hour trek from the vehicle assembly building to Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 19, 2006. (John Raoux / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. In the White Room on Launch Pad 39B, STS-121 mission specialist Thomas Reiter of Germany, representing the European Space Agency, gets final adjustments made to his launch suit before entering Discovery at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on June 15, 2006. (NASA via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Mission specialists Michael Fossum and Thomas Reiter; pilot Mark Kelly' commander Steven Lindsey; and mission specialists Lisa Nowak, Stephanie Wilson and Piers Sellers conclude emergency egress practice on June 15, 2006. This was during Terminal Countdown Demonstration Tests, a launch dress rehearsal that occurs before each shuttle mission. (NASA via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Astronauts Thomas Reiter of Germany and Piers J. Sellers and Stephanie D. Wison of the U.S., all STS-121 mission specialists, train in advance of their launch on July 1, 2006. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. NASA spokesman Bruce Buckingham listens as John Shannon, NASA's deputy space shuttle program manager, points to a location on a model of the external fuel tank where a piece of foam insulation broke away from Discovery. The mishap was explained during a news conference on July 3, 2006, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The Discovery lifts off on another mission from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on July 4, 2006. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Self-portrait, taken by astronaut Michael Fossum on July 8, 2006, during a spacewalk while the Discovery orbiter was docked with the International Space Station. Turning his camera to snap a picture of his own helmet visor, he also recorded the reflection of his fellow mission specialist, Piers J. Sellers, near center of picture, and one of the space station's gold-tinted solar power arrays arcing across the top. The horizon of Earth is in background. (Michael Fossum / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The nose of Discovery and part of the underside is seen over Earth on July 6, 2006. NASA engineers examined detailed pictures of the space shuttle's heat shield a day before two astronauts were to embark on the most disorienting task of their 13-day mission: a wobbly spacewalk. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The sun illuminates the Earth's atmosphere during a sunrise, seen from the Discovery after departure from the International Space Station on Aug. 6, 2005. A portion of the shuttle's aft cargo bay, its vertical stabilizer and orbital maneuvering system pods are seen in the foreground. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A lightning bolt crackles down in the distance on Aug. 14, 2006, during preparations at Edwards Air Force Base in California to return the shuttle Discovery to its Florida home base. The gantry-style structure surrounding Discovery is used to mount the shuttle atop a modified Boeing 747 jet for a cross-country piggyback flight. (Tom Tschida / NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Discovery lands at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on June 14, 2008. The shuttle completed a 14-day mission to the International Space Station, where it delivered the Japanese Kibo module. The STS-124 mission also included three spacewalks. (Justin Dernier / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Discovery approaches the International Space Station during rendezvous and docking operations on June 2, 2008. The second component of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory, the Japanese Pressurized Module, is visible in Discovery's cargo bay. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A woman kicks back as she watches from Titusville, Fla., as the space shuttle Discovery launches from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on May 31, 2008. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. With Earth as a backdrop, Discovery approaches the International Space Station during STS-133 rendezvous and docking operations on Feb. 26, 2011. Discovery, on its 39th and final flight, carried up the Italian-built Permanent Multipurpose Module, Express Logistics Carrier 4 and Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space. (NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (27) Shuttle Discovery's historic career
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    Slideshow (12) Month in Space: January 2014

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