Discovery Makes Last Mission a Flight to Remember
The crew of STS-133 closed out space shuttle Discovery's roster of accomplishments with a virtually flawless 13-day flight to attach a new module to the International Space Station and help the residents there outfit the orbiting laboratory for continued research.
Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott and Steve Bowen lifted off aboard Discovery on Feb. 24, 2011, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin the spacecraft's pursuit of the station.
With Lindsey at the controls, Discovery rendezvoused with the station two days later and then backed the shuttle to its berthing port. Discovery's docking completed the rare occasion of having vehicles from the United States, Russia, Europe and Japan connected to the International Space Station at the same time. Along with the shuttle and the Russian Soyuz capsules, the European Space Agency's uncrewed Automated Transferred Vehicle-2 and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's H-II Transfer Vehicle, or HTV, were attached to the station.
Discovery's six astronauts joined the six residents on the station for a quick welcome before they teamed up to move an equipment platform out of the shuttle's cargo bay and onto the station's truss.
The Express Logistics Carrier had been loaded on Earth with spare parts for the station, including a radiator to cool the station's systems. The parts will not be installed until they are needed as replacements.
Barratt and Stott operated the space station's robotic arm to lift the platform out of Discovery's cargo bay. They handed it off to the shuttle's own robotic arm, worked by Boe and Drew. After the station arm was maneuvered to a new location, the shuttle arm was used to hand it back to the station arm, which maneuvered the platform to its final location on the station's backbone.
Drew and Bowen left the station's Quest airlock Feb. 28 on the first of two spacewalks planned for the mission. Working inside Discovery's cargo bay and on the station, the duo put the finishing touches on the outside of the Permanent Multipurpose Module, or PMM, so it could be installed on the station and they moved a failed pump module to a stowage platform where it will stay until it can be brought back to Earth for evaluation.
Station Commander Scott Kelly worked with Barratt to drive the station's robotic arm during the spacewalk to assist Bowen and Drew. Although a glitch in the arm's control system prompted them to move to a backup location, the spacewalk's objectives were completed.
Barratt and Stott took the controls of the station's robotic arm again the next day to attach the new module to the underside of the station, connecting it to the Earth-facing side of the Unity node. The PMM is a closet for the space station, giving the crew more room to store equipment and supplies. Technicians retrofitted the Italian-built Leonardo resupply module with meteorite shielding and other gear so it could be permanently attached to the station.
The module went into space loaded with equipment, experiments and supplies for the station, so the shuttle and station crews worked throughout the mission to unpack some of the material in the PMM as well as the supplies inside the European and Japanese cargo ships.
Bowen and Drew ventured outside the station again on the mission's seventh day in space. Bowen, riding the station's robotic arm, disconnected an experiment rack from the outside of the Columbus laboratory module and Drew removed covers from the logistics carrier Discovery brought up.
The crews of both spacecraft spent the next week working inside the space station to prepare it for continuing research operations. Outfitting work inside the PMM included removing launch supports and putting unneeded materials into the HTV, which will be jettisoned later to burn up in the atmosphere.
Discovery left the space station Monday, March 7 and its crew began prepping the shuttle for its final glide back to Earth.
The shuttle soared through mostly clear skies over Florida on Wednesday, March 9. Lindsey guided Discovery onto Kennedy's runway at 11:57 a.m. EST.
After the landing, reflection mixed with celebration after Discovery completed the last of its 39 missions into orbit. Lindsey and his crew walked beneath the shuttle with NASA officials including Administrator Charles Bolden.
"I am so glad we got to land here at Kennedy, the home of Discovery," STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey said. "As the minutes pass, I'm actually getting sadder and sadder about this being the last flight and I know all the folks involved with the shuttle program feel the same way."
Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator of Space Operations, said the work was critical to set up the station and its crew for research.
"I think (Discovery's) legacy will be the future," Gerstenmaier said.
Although Discovery will not go back into space, it still will offer scientific insight to future engineers, said Mike Moses, chairman of the Mission Management Team.
"The vehicle itself is a science platform," he said, adding that parts of Discovery will be pulled from the spacecraft and evaluated for wear.
The shuttle teams throughout NASA drew special praise for the longevity of the program and its successes, along with the workers' diligence.
"Discovery was in great shape and I view that as a testament to the team," Moses said. "It was really a triumph today for the entire Discovery team."
"We wanted to go out on a high note and Discovery's done that," said Mike Leinbach, shuttle launch director. "We couldn't ask for more."
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center