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Ode to Discovery: Space shuttle ends a successful mission, career

Space shuttle Discovery taxied to a stop at Kennedy Space Center just before noon Wednesday, ending a triumphant 13-day mission and 27-year career.

By Staff writer / March 9, 2011

Space shuttle Discovery lands at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, March 9, at 11:59 a.m., finishing a successful mission and ending the 27-year career of the space shuttle, which is destined for a museum.

Stan Honda / AP

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After 365 days and 148,221,675 million miles in space during 27 years of operation, the space shuttle Discovery ended a storied career Wednesday with brief puffs of smoke, as tires touched the runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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During its final, 13-day mission, Discovery and its crew delivered a new module to the International Space Station, as well as an external storage platform, a robot to eventually serve as an additional crew member, and tons (literally) of supplies.

The mission went so well that managers added two days to Discovery's docked time at the station to allow shuttle astronauts to help the station crew get ahead on repairs and housecleaning chores – that would otherwise fall to a station crew that, for a period, will drop to three astronauts instead of the usual six.

As Discovery rolled to a halt at 11:58 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, mission commander Steven "Pinto" Lindsey radioed: "Houston? Discovery for the final time: Wheels stopped."

"Discovery? Houston. Pinto, great job by you and your crew," came the reply.

Later, as the crew stood behind him on the runway, Lindsey told the ground crew and NASA officials who came out to greet the returning astronauts that "it's a pretty bittersweet moment for all of us. As the minutes have passed, I've actually been getting sadder and sadder about this being the last flight."

With 39 missions, Discovery has by all accounts been the workhorse of the shuttle fleet.

It was delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in November 1983 – the third of what was designed to be a four-shuttle fleet – and launched on its first mission the following August.

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