After four-month delay, Discovery blasts off on 'one last reach for the stars’
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Discovery, the world’s most traveled spaceship, thundered into orbit for the final time yesterday, heading toward the International Space Station on a journey that marks the beginning of the end of the shuttle era.
The six astronauts on board, all experienced space fliers, were thrilled to be on their way after a delay of nearly four months for fuel tank repairs. But it puts Discovery on the cusp of retirement when it returns in 11 days.
“Discovery now making one last reach for the stars,’’ the Mission Control commentator said once the shuttle cleared the launch tower. It was Discovery’s 39th launch.
Discovery is the oldest of NASA’s three surviving space shuttles and the first to be decommissioned this year. Two missions remain, first Atlantis and then Endeavour, to end the 30-year program.
Discovery will reach the space station tomorrow, delivering a small chamber full of supplies and an experimental humanoid robot.
NASA is under presidential direction to retire the shuttle fleet this summer, let private companies take over trips to orbit, and focus on getting astronauts to asteroids and Mars.