Discovery has rolled onto its launch pad for the final time. The 26 year old shuttle will be retired after this last flight, which is planned for November 1st. This will be its 39th launch.
NASA workers and their families lined up along the rocky path to the launch pad late last night, as Discovery was slowly and carefully brought to the pad. Many had tears in their eyes as they reminisced about the years they have spent working with the shuttle Discovery. The shuttle reached the launch pad at 1:49 a.m.
After Discovery’s launch, only one more shuttle mission is on the schedule. Endeavour is being prepared for a February, 2011 launch. NASA has indicated that they would like to send one more shuttle up during the summer of 2011, most likely Atlantis. But funding for that launch as not been approved.
Discovery’s final mission will be transporting spare parts, an unpressurized scientific platform, and a humanoid robot assistant, to the International Space Station (ISS). The robot, Robonaut 2, or R2 for short, is a dexterous test unit that can use the same tools, and manipulate the same instruments, that a human can. It will be closely monitored to see how it functions in the weightless environment and close confines of the ISS.
After Discovery returns to Earth, the current plan is for it to become a museum display. Though not official, the most widely mentioned location is the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.