NASA's specially modified 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA, is positioned under Discovery to be attached for a ferry flight to the Kennedy Space Center. (NASA Photo by Carla Thomas) › View Larger Image
Discovery, the first shuttle to be retired, flew more missions than any of the other shuttles - 39 in all. Its first mission was STS-41D in August - September 1984 and concluded with STS-133 in February - March 2011. It flew more than 148 million miles in space on some of the most significant of the Space Shuttle Program's 135 missions.
Discovery missions included carrying the Hubble Space Telescope to orbit and later servicing it 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.
Discovery's 180 passengers included Air Force Col. Eileen Collins, who was the first woman pilot in 1995 on STS-63. On a separate mission, STS-93 in 1999, she became the shuttle's first woman commander. Collins also commanded the STS-114 return-to-flight mission, which marked the shuttle program's first mission since the loss of Columbia on Feb. 1, 2003.
The setting sun provides a beautiful backdrop for Discovery and the Crew Transport Vehicle after Discovery's landing at Edwards Air Force Base on Sept. 11, 2009. (NASA Photo by Tom Tschida) › View Larger Image Bernard Harris, also on STS-63, 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. In 1998 Mercury 7 astronaut and former U.S. Senator John Glenn flew aboard the STS-95 mission. He was 77. The flight also marked the first time that a U.S. president - Bill Clinton - attended a shuttle launch, although President Ronald Reagan had attended the fourth landing of the shuttle Columbia at Dryden on July 4, 1982.
Of those 39 missions, 24 landed at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., from where it launched, while another 15 touched down at Edwards Air Force Base, necessitating ferry flights aboard one of NASA's two modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft to return it to its home base.
Discovery had a fast start after it was added to the shuttle fleet by flying six of the next nine missions of the orbiters during its first year of operation. Its early missions involved placing satellites into, or retrieving them from, orbit. The last of that series, mission STS-51-I in August - September 1985, saw the retrieval, repair and re-deployment of the LEASAT IV-F3 satellite during a dramatic two-hour spacewalk by Discovery's mission specialists.
Discovery was the go-to orbiter when the decision to resume shuttle flights after the Challenger disaster in early 1986 put the program on hold for more than two-and-a-half years. The four-day STS-26 mission placed a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite into space.
Although deployment of satellites continued to be a major function of Discovery's missions in the 1990s, many of its missions were devoted to a wide range of environmental and space science experiments conducted in both its mid-deck area and in special laboratories nestled in its payload bay.
The STS-82 mission in 1997 saw Discovery's crew upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope's capabilities by installing two new state-of-the-art instruments and perform maintenance to keep the telescope operating smoothly during four Extra-Vehicular Activity spacewalks.
Discovery's STS-96 mission in 1999 marked the first docking with the inaugural modules of the International Space Station, the construction and support of which would become the primary focus of most shuttle missions.
With the loss of Columbia and its crew in the STS-107 accident in early 2003, Discovery was again selected to be the Return-to-Flight vehicle when missions resumed on the STS-114 mission to the space station in July 2005. Much of that mission, along with the follow-up STS-121 mission a year later, was devoted to testing out new hardware and repair techniques for the Shuttles' Thermal Protection Systems while in orbit.
Discovery's roster of accomplishments during its missions concluded on STS-133 in early 2011 with a 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. It returned from space for the last time at Kennedy on March 9, 2011.
Jay Levine, X-Press editor, contributed to this report.