NASA Podcasts

STS-133: Discovery's Final Mission
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Space shuttle Discovery, the veteran spacecraft of NASA's shuttle fleet, waited on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to take its final bow, prepared to soar into space for its 39th and final mission.

Commander Steve Lindsey, on his fifth shuttle flight and third on Discovery, lead the way out of the Operations and Checkout building where the astronauts donned their orange flight suits.

Striding down the ramp and waving to a cheering crowd with Lindsey were Pilot Eric Boe, Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Nicole Stott and Michael Barratt.

In an extraordinary gesture of respect for each other and the vehicle that would take them into space, the crew stopped for a quiet moment and huddled together before their momentous journey.

NASA Commentator Mike Curie: Go for main engine start. We have main engine start....2…1…booster ignition, and the final liftoff of Discovery, a tribute to the dedication, hard work and pride of America's space shuttle team. The shuttle has cleared the tower.

Space shuttle Discovery majestically lifted off the pad at 4:53 p.m. Eastern Time February 24, on its STS-133 mission to the International Space Station, its final flight.

As the shuttle closed within 600 feet of the space station, it performed its rendezvous pitch maneuver, or back flip.

Discovery was the first spacecraft to perform this maneuver on its Return to Flight, STS-114 mission.

The back flip gives ground teams in Houston a chance to look over the heat shield to confirm it is in good condition before docking.

For the 13th time in its flight history, Discovery was guided gently toward the station's docking port.

A warm welcome from the Expedition 26 crew greeted the Discovery crew as they glided into the orbiting outpost through the hatch.

The first activity for some of the crew the next day was the installation of the Express Logistics Carrier -4, or ELC-4, onto the station's S-3 truss section.

Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialist Alvin Drew controlled the arm from the flight deck of the shuttle while Mission Specialists Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott manned the controls of the Canadarm2 from inside the cupola module, to grapple the carrier and move it into position.

Drew and Bowen spent the next night camping out in the Quest airlock after breathing pure oxygen to cleanse their blood of nitrogen, in preparation for their first spacewalk.

After stepping out into space, Bowen, perched at the end of the station's robotic arm, said he got the view of a lifetime before he began working on replacing the ammonia pump.

Bowen, who replaced Tim Kopra on the mission after a bicycle accident kept him earthbound, was in constant contact with Kopra who was at Mission Control, helping out from the ground , answering questions and providing input.

Back inside the station from his first spacewalk, Drew looked like a kid that just came back from a theme park.

Mission Specialist Nicole Stott: How was it?

Mission Specialist Alvin Drew: It was awesome -- oh man that was great -- the views were outstanding!

Mission Specialist Nicole Stott: You looked fantastic out there, you looked totally natural.

Mission Specialist Alvin Drew: I was faking it really well.

Mission Specialist Nicole Stott: Faking a little bit? Alright, go get some food.

On Tuesday, Stott and Barratt grappled and lifted the Permanent Multipurpose Module, or PMM, loaded with equipment and supplies, including Robonaut 2, out of Discovery's payload bay using the station's 58-foot robotic arm and installed it to the Earth-facing port of the Unity node -- completing the assembly of the ISS.

After the spacewalk, Mission Control radioed the joint crew members that mission managers had approved an extra day for the shuttle mission to set up the interior of the new Permanent Multipurpose Module.

Lindsey and station Commander Scott Kelly opened the hatch on the PMM and after a brief christening ceremony all of the crew members floated into the 21-foot long module.

Robonaut-2, still encased in its travel box was gingerly moved out of the PMM to its storage area and secured in place for future use.

Josh Byerly/ Mission Control: Discovery and ISS: Please stand by for the President.

President Barack Obama: Hello everybody!

Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly: Hello Mr. President, welcome aboard the International Space Station.

President Barack Obama: Well, look I wanted to call and just say how personally proud I am of you and all that you're accomplishing.

A special long-distance phone call was made from President Barack Obama to the twelve members on board the station congratulating them on their accomplishments.

The entire crew was occupied transferring and stowing thousands of pounds of equipment, setting up racks and science equipment.

After eight busy but satisfying days aboard the station, it was time for the Discovery crew to leave. Kelly wished them fair sailing, a safe trip back to Earth and a warm goodbye to space shuttle Discovery and appreciation for its outstanding support of the station.

Fond farewells shared, hatches closed, the shuttle undocked with the traditional ringing of the ship's bell.

Bell Ringing

Commander Steve Lindsey: Discovery departing.

Bell Ringing

Commander Lindsey spoke about this final day in space, final voyage for Discovery and its remarkable history.

Commander Steve Lindsey: On this final day on orbit when I think about Discovery, I think about all that. I think about all the people that went before us on this vehicle, but mostly what I think about are the thousands and thousands of people across the space shuttle program in these past 30 years who designed this vehicle, built this vehicle, have taken care of this vehicle and operated this vehicle, not just from the cockpit, but also those who operated this vehicle from the ground -- and that is her greatest legacy to me.

A last and a first took place on the same mission when the crew's wake-up song was performed live from Mission Control in Houston by Big Head Todd and the Monsters, singing their song "Blue Sky" on Discovery's last day in space. Good news from Mission Control informed the crew that they were cleared for a deorbit burn on the first landing opportunity at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The day was clear as a bell and picture-perfect as Discovery broke through the atmosphere from a brilliant blue sky -- trailing the twin sonic booms, heralding its approach.

Twin sonic booms sound

Landing for the final time on Runway 15 at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility at 11:57 a.m. Eastern Time March 9, Discovery completed a flawless 13-day mission.

To its credit, space shuttle Discovery logged an incredible 39 missions, a total of 365 days in space, traveling 148.2 million miles by the end of its remarkable history.

Commander Steve Lindsey: And Houston, Discovery, for the final time, wheel stop.

Commander Steve Lindsey: I'm extremely proud of this crew here. My crew did a fantastic job, the ground teams did a fantastic job, we accomplished every objective we set out to do then and plus a whole bunch more. It was a privilege to be able to be in charge of her for just a couple of weeks and I'm sad to give her back, but I couldn't imagine giving her back to into better hands than this group right here.

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