Last Flight for Space Shuttle Discovery

The countdown continues for Space Shuttle Discovery, scheduled to lift off this afternoon from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There will be one — or maybe even two — more shuttle flights after this one, but it's the last trip into space for Discovery. KUHF health science and technology reporter Carrie Feibel has more.

Discovery docked
Space shuttle Discovery on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Discovery is the reliable old workhorse of the shuttle fleet. It started flying in 1984 and has logged more trips than any other shuttle. Eric Boe is the pilot for Discovery’s last mission.

“When you think about it 39 times we’ve taken this incredible vehicle up into space.”

Discovery carried the Hubble telescope into orbit. It was also the first shuttle picked to return to space after both the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the Columbia re-entry accident in 2003.

During the 11-day trip, Discovery will dock with the International Space Station and deliver a payload of spare parts and experiments. Steven Lindsey is the mission commander.

“We consider space station at this point complete, it’s already completely built. What we’re adding on are things that will enable the space station to go for, you know, through to 2020 and maybe beyond.”

The importance of spare parts was highlighted in late July, when an ammonia pump broke and shut down half the space station’s cooling system. Astronauts were able to replace the pump with a spare that Lindsey had brought up on an earlier shuttle flight.

“Because things break and we can’t run down to Home Depot and get something to replace it. So we have to have those spares pre-positioned onboard.”


At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the STS-133 crew takes a break from a simulated launch countdown to ham it up for a group photo on the 195-foot level of Launch Pad 39A. From left to right: Pilot Eric Boe, Mission Specialist Michael Barratt, Commander Steve Lindsey, and Mission Specialists Tim Kopra, Nicole Stott, and Alvin Drew. 

The Discovery crew is also bringing up a large cylindrical chamber and will attach it permanently to the space station. The chamber will provide more room for storage. Discovery crew member Nicole Stott explains that in outer space, there’s actually a severe shortage of, well, space.

“I think anybody’s that’s lived and worked up there has at one time or another or many times felt like ‘Wow, if we just had a closet where we could stick this, or we just had, you know, designated storage for these particular items, it would be such a great thing.’”

This will be the 133rd shuttle flight since the program started in1981. To help stoke interest in the mission, NASA is asking the public to vote on what song should be played during the astronauts’ wake-up calls. The choices include Elton John’s Rocket Man, Tom Petty’s Free Fallin, and this song, from Lenny Kravitz.

(music excerpt from I Want to Fly Away)

To vote for a song, visit NASA's Space Rock page.

From the KUHF Health, Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.
Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...