US space shuttle Discovery flies a final time
The shuttle Discovery, the most journeyed spacecraft of the now-retired American fleet, on Tuesday made its final flight from Florida toward the Washington area museum where it will go on display.
Piggybacking atop a modified Boeing 747 kept by NASA specifically for transporting space shuttles, Discovery lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, early in the day.
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A flyover of the US capital was planned for mid-morning (10-11 am, 1400-1500 GMT) before the shuttle lands at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center outside the US capital in suburban Virginia.
A ceremony to mark the official induction of the Discovery at the museum will be held on Thursday.
Discovery flew its last mission to space in February and March of last year, on a 13-day trip to the International Space Station.
It is the oldest and most traveled craft in the US collection of three space-flying shuttles -- also including Endeavour and Atlantis -- and one prototype, the Enterprise.
Two other shuttles were destroyed in flight. Challenger disintegrated shortly after liftoff in 1986 and Columbia broke apart on re-entry to Earth in 2003. Both disasters killed everyone on board.
Discovery has spent a total of 365 days in space, and flown nearly 149 million miles (241 million kilometers) over the course of 39 missions, NASA's mission control said.
Discovery was the first of the three shuttles to retire last year. Endeavour began its final trip to space in April and the 30-year US program ended after Atlantis returned to Earth for the last time in July 2011.
Russia is now the only nation capable of sending astronauts to space aboard its Soyuz capsules.
Private US companies are competing to be the first to fill the gap left by the shuttles' retirement, with SpaceX set to attempt its first unmanned cargo mission to the ISS on April 30.
by Alice Ritchie © 2012 AFP
Source : AFP