Discovery concluded missions at Edwards and Dryden 15 times, including this landing that wrapped up STS-128 on Sept. 11, 2009. (NASA Photo by Tom Tschida) › View Larger Image
Dryden employees gained insight into Space Shuttle Discovery's final mission when its commander and a mission specialist visited April 26.
STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey and mission specialist Alvin Drew explained elements of the 13-day mission that included attaching a new module for storage to the International Space Station, bringing spare parts and preparing the orbiting laboratory for future research.
Lindsey and Drew are familiar with Edwards Air Force Base; they were assigned to the Air Force Test Pilot School. Drew is a veteran of two shuttle flights, both on Discovery. Lindsey is a veteran of five shuttle missions on three orbiters, including three missions on Discovery and one mission each on Atlantis and Columbia.
Discovery's final crew also included pilot Eric Bow and mission specialists Michael Barratt, Nicole Slott and Steve Bowen, who was a late replacement when lead spacewalker Tim Kopra was injured and could not make the flight.
The docked space shuttle Discovery and the Canadian-built Dextre, also known as the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, were photographed by an STS-133 crewmember on the International Space Station. The blackness of space and Earth's horizon provide the backdrop. (NASA Photo) › View Larger Image One of the mission tasks was teaming up with the space station crew to move an equipment platform out of the shuttle's cargo bay and onto the station's truss. Barratt and Slott operated the space station's robotic arm and handed it off to the shuttle's robotic arm, operated by Bow and Drew, and the platform was maneuvered to its permanent location on the station's backbone.
Among a host of new science experiments and hardware was the Robonaut 2, the first dexterous humanoid robot in space. Its first priority is to test its operation in microgravity, but upgrades are planned that will develop it as an astronaut assistant for dangerous or boring tasks.
The astronauts answered questions about their best memories in space and their experiences with the space shuttles.
"What really sticks with me was the first time I looked out the window on my first mission. I was stringing some coaxial cable for a local area network when I looked out and it was one of those 'you're not in Kansas anymore' moments, especially when a satellite whizzed by about 1 kilometer away," Drew said.
Lindsey agreed that the view is extraordinary.
"I think something that sticks with you no matter how much time you have in space is seeing Earth from space. It's spectacular, and it never gets old. Every time you look at the Earth, you see something different even if you've flown over it a thousand times," he said.
Another question was about seeing meteor showers and color in space.
"You see meteors below you, which is really cool," Lindsey said. "Through the window, you look down at Earth and you can see the meteors entering the atmosphere. You can see all kinds of colors. Every hour and a half, you orbit the Earth, so every 45 minutes you see a sunrise or sunset – as opposed to just seeing the sky dim as you do on Earth, you can actually see multiple color bands in the atmosphere.
"I think one time I counted 12 or 13 colors. At night, if you turn off all the cabin lights so there are no reflections, you can see unbelievable stars in all kinds of different colors that you don't see even in high-altitude flight. It's pretty spectacular."
The shuttle commander thanked Dryden employees for their roles in providing shuttle support.
"We need shuttle support here to fly out there. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for making Discovery's last flight a success."
The landing at Kennedy Space Center marked the conclusion of Discovery's 39th mission to orbit and the first space shuttle to be retired. Discovery has flown more missions than any other shuttle in the fleet; missions included carrying the Hubble Space Telescope to orbit and sending the Ulysses robotic probe on its way to the sun. It was also the first shuttle to rendezvous with the Mir Space station, and it delivered the Japanese Kibo laboratory to the ISS.
Among Discovery's 180 passengers was Eileen Collins, who was the first female pilot, and, on a separate mission, the first shuttle female commander. Bernard Harris became the first African American spacewalker and Jake Garn became the first sitting member of Congress to fly in space, on STS-51D in April 1985.
The two members of Discovery's crew said although the vehicle will no longer travel to space, it will continue inspiring young people as they reach for the stars.