Space Shuttle Discovery Flies Last Mission. What’s Next for Space Program?
The space shuttle Discovery has flown its last mission, but it's not going to disappear into a storage hangar anywhere. NASA says Discovery will go to a very public place where it will be on display for years to come.
Discovery is NASA’s oldest shuttle orbiter. Since its first flight 27 years ago, it's flown 39 missions, and played a large role in building the International Space Station. On its final mission, the crew delivered and installed a new storage compartment, complete with a humanoid robot.
The mission added 13 days to Discovery’s lifetime total of 365 days in space. Its total mileage is 148 million miles.
Discovery will be decommissioned over the next several months and sent to the Smithsonian Institution Air and Space Museum for permanent display.
The shuttles Endeavour and then Atlantis will each fly once more in the next few months. Then they too will be retired, but their final destinations haven't been chosen yet.
NASA is under presidential direction to develop plans for missions beyond low-Earth orbit. The goal is to send astronauts to an asteroid and Mars in the decades ahead. Unfortunately, there's not enough money for NASA to achieve that and maintain the shuttle program at the same time.
When all the space shuttles are out of service, astronauts will hitch rides to the space station on Russian Soyuz capsules, until private companies are able to provide taxi service to and from orbit.