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Shuttle Discovery's crew: a moment to reflect amid rush to complete tasks

Tackling their final chores before departing the International Space Station on Monday, shuttle Discovery crew members acknowledge with some sadness that the mission is the orbiter's last.

By Staff writer / March 4, 2011

Crew members of the space shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station are seen in this image from NASA TV, Friday. The crew will return to Earth on Wednesday, but took some time out of their busy schedules to reflect the end of the shuttle program and Discovery's last mission.

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Houston

Astronauts are making a final push to prepare a new module for the crew of the International Space Station and make needed repairs to a key piece of station hardware before the space shuttle Discovery and its six-member crew bid a final farewell to the orbiting outpost on Monday.

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This marks the final mission for Discovery – and final shuttle flight for its crew – as NASA phases out the space-shuttle program. The last mission is scheduled for the end of June.

When asked about the mission's status as Discovery's last, crew members typically have replied that they are focused on accomplishing the mission's tasks and haven't given much thought to the milestone.

But as Discovery's departure approaches and crew members come closer to wrapping up their tasks, it's clear they are giving the orbiter's curtain call more thought.

Describing moments when he could look out on the orbiter from the space station's cupola, shuttle commander Steven Lindsey allowed during a press conference on Friday that reflecting on Discovery's record – a cumulative year in orbit from 39 missions in 27 years of operation – "is kind of bittersweet and quite frankly sad knowing that when we land, that will be it for this vehicle."

"It's going to be hard to walk away from Discovery on the runway that day," added mission specialist Nicole Stott.

Weekend clean-up

In the meantime, however, the combined crews of the station and shuttle will be working hard to minimize the amount of loose ends the station crew will have to tie up after Discovery leaves. Indeed, mission managers extended the shuttle crew's stay at the station by two days to keep the outfitting and maintenance processes moving in high gear.

With some 90 percent of the cargo transfers to and from the shuttle complete, astronauts will spend much of the day Saturday organizing the new storage module and clearing it of trash – the hardware that protected its cargo from the rigors of launch.

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