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Space Shuttle Discovery (Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-103) is one of the orbiters from NASA's Space Shuttle program and the third of five fully operational orbiters to be built.[4] Its first mission, STS-41-D, flew from August 30 to September 5, 1984. Over 27 years of service it launched and landed 39 times, gathering more spaceflights than any other spacecraft to date.[5]

STS-124 launch from a distance.jpg
Space Shuttle Discovery launches from NASA Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39A on mission STS-124 on May 31, 2008.
OV designation OV-103
Country United States
Contract award January 29, 1979
Named after Discovery (1602),
HMS Discovery (1774),
HMS Discovery (1874),
RRS Discovery (1901),
Discovery One
Status Retired, on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia[1]
First flight STS-41-D
August 30, 1984 (1984-08-30) – September 5, 1984
Last flight STS-133
February 24, 2011 (2011-02-24) – March 9, 2011
No. of missions 39
Crew members 252[2]
Time spent in space 1 year (365 days) , 22 hours, 39 minutes, 33 seconds
Distance travelled 148,221,675 mi (238,539,663 km)[3]
Satellites deployed 31 (including Hubble Space Telescope)
Mir dockings 1[3]
ISS dockings 13[3]
Discovery rollout ceremony in October 1983

Discovery became the third operational orbiter to enter service, preceded by Columbia and Challenger.[6] It embarked on its last mission, STS-133, on February 24, 2011 and touched down for the final time at Kennedy Space Center on March 9,[7] having spent a cumulative total of almost a full year in space. Discovery performed both research and International Space Station (ISS) assembly missions. It also carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. Discovery was the first operational shuttle to be retired, followed by Endeavour and then Atlantis.



The name Discovery was chosen to carry on a tradition based on ships of exploration,[4] primarily HMS Discovery,[8] one of the ships commanded by Captain James Cook during his third and final major voyage from 1776 to 1779, and Henry Hudson's Discovery,[4] which was used in 1610–1611 to explore Hudson Bay and search for a Northwest Passage. Other ships bearing the name have included the HMS Discovery[9] of the 1875–1876 British Arctic Expedition to the North Pole and RRS Discovery, which led the 1901–1904 "Discovery Expedition" to Antarctica.[10]

Discovery launched the Hubble Space Telescope and conducted the second and third Hubble service missions. It also launched the Ulysses probe and three TDRS satellites. Twice Discovery was chosen as the "Return To Flight" Orbiter, first in 1988 after the loss of Challenger in 1986, and then again for the twin "Return To Flight" missions in July 2005 and July 2006 after the Columbia disaster in 2003. Project Mercury astronaut John Glenn, who was 77 at the time, flew with Discovery on STS-95 in 1998, making him the oldest person to go into space.[11]

Had plans to launch United States Department of Defense payloads from Vandenberg Air Force Base gone ahead, Discovery would have become the dedicated US Air Force shuttle.[12] Its first West Coast mission, STS-62-A, was scheduled for 1986, but canceled in the aftermath of Challenger.

Discovery was retired after completing its final mission, STS 133 on March 9, 2011. The spacecraft is now on display in Virginia at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.[1]

Construction milestonesEdit

Date Milestone[10]
1979 January 29 Contract Award to Rockwell International's Space Transportation Systems Division in Downey, California
1979 August 27 Start long lead fabrication of Crew Module
1980 June 20 Start fabrication lower fuselage
1980 November 10 Start structural assembly of aft-fuselage
1980 December 8 Start initial system installation aft fuselage
1981 March 2 Start fabrication/assembly of payload bay doors
1981 October 26 Start initial system installation, crew module, Downey
1982 January 4 Start initial system installation upper forward fuselage
1982 March 16 Midfuselage on dock, Palmdale, California
1982 March 30 Elevons on dock, Palmdale
1982 April 30 Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman
1982 April 30 Lower forward fuselage on dock, Palmdale
1982 July 16 Upper forward fuselage on dock, Palmdale
1982 August 5 Vertical stabilizer on dock, Palmdale
1982 September 3 Start of Final Assembly
1982 October 15 Body flap on dock, Palmdale
1983 January 11 Aft fuselage on dock, Palmdale
1983 February 25 Complete final assembly and closeout installation, Palmdale
1983 February 28 Start initial subsystems test, power-on, Palmdale
1983 May 13 Complete initial subsystems testing
1983 July 26 Complete subsystems testing
1983 August 12 Completed Final Acceptance
1983 October 16 Rollout from Palmdale
1983 November 5 Overland transport from Palmdale to Edwards Air Force Base
1983 November 9 Delivery to Kennedy Space Center
1984 June 2 Flight Readiness Firing
1984 August 30 First Flight (STS-41-D)

Upgrades and featuresEdit

Discovery rocketing into space, just after booster separation.

Discovery weighed 6,870 pounds (3,120 kg) less than Columbia when it was brought into service due to optimizations determined during the construction and testing of Enterprise, Columbia and Challenger.[11] Discovery weighs 6 pounds (2.7 kg) heavier than Atlantis and 363 pounds (165 kg) heavier than Endeavour.[2]

Part of the discovery weight optimizations included the greater use of quilted AFRSI blankets rather than the white LRSI tiles on the fuselage, and the use of graphite epoxy instead of aluminum for the payload bay doors and some of the wing spars and beams.[13]

Upon its delivery to the Kennedy Space Center in 1983, Discovery was modified alongside Challenger to accommodate the liquid-fueled Centaur-G booster, which had been planned for use beginning in 1986 but was cancelled in the wake of the Challenger disaster.[14]

Beginning in late 1995, the orbiter underwent a nine-month Orbiter Maintenance Down Period (OMDP) in Palmdale, California. This included outfitting the vehicle with a 5th set of cryogenic tanks and an external airlock to support missions to the International Space Station. As with all the orbiters, it could be attached to the top of specialized aircraft and did so in June 1996 when it returned to the Kennedy Space Center, and later in April 2012 when sent to the Udvar-Hazy Center, riding piggy-back on a modified Boeing 747.[11]

After STS-105, Discovery became the first of the orbiter fleet to undergo Orbiter Major Modification (OMM) period at the Kennedy Space Center. Work began in September 2002 to prepare the vehicle for Return to Flight. The work included scheduled upgrades and additional safety modifications.[11]

Decommissioning and displayEdit

Discovery riding piggy-back on SCA N905NA on the last flyover of the National Mall at around 10:15 am EDT, during its 11:05 am landing at Dulles airport on April 17, 2012.[15]
Enterprise and Discovery exchanged and Discovery on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Discovery was decommissioned on March 9, 2011.[16][17]

NASA offered Discovery to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum for public display and preservation, after a month-long decontamination process,[18] as part of the national collection.[19][20][21] Discovery replaced Enterprise in the Smithsonian's display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.[22][23][24] Discovery was transported to Washington Dulles International Airport on April 17, 2012, and was transferred to the Udvar-Hazy on April 19 where a welcome ceremony was held. Afterwards, at around 5: 30 pm, Discovery was rolled to its "final wheels stop" in the Udvar Hazy Center.[25][26]


Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) deployed

By its last mission, Discovery had flown 149 million miles (238 million km) in 39 missions, completed 5,830 orbits, and spent 365 days in orbit over 27 years.[27] Discovery flew more flights than any other Orbiter Shuttle, including four in 1985 alone. Discovery flew all three "return to flight" missions after the Challenger and Columbia disasters: STS-26 in 1988, STS-114 in 2005, and STS-121 in 2006. Discovery flew the ante-penultimate mission of the Space Shuttle program, STS-133, having launched on February 24, 2011. Endeavour flew STS-134 and Atlantis performed STS-135, NASA's last Space Shuttle mission. On February 24, 2011, Space Shuttle Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39-A to begin its final orbital flight.[28]

Flights listingEdit

# Date Designation Notes Length of journey
1 August 30, 1984 STS-41-D First Discovery mission: Judith Resnik became second American woman in Space. Three communications satellites were put into orbit, including LEASAT F2. 6 days, 00 hours,
56 minutes, 04 seconds
2 November 8, 1984 STS-51-A Launched two and rescued two communications satellites including LEASAT F1. 7 days, 23 hours,
44 minutes, 56 seconds
3 January 24, 1985 STS-51-C Launched DOD Magnum ELINT satellite. 3 days, 01 hours,
33 minutes, 23 seconds-
4 April 12, 1985 STS-51-D Launched two communications satellites including LEASAT F3. Carried first incumbent United States member of Congress into space, Senator Jake Garn (RUtah) 6 days, 23 hours,
55 minutes, 23 seconds
5 June 17, 1985 STS-51-G Launched two communications satellites, Sultan Salman al-Saud becomes first Saudi Arabian in space. 7 days, 01 hours,
38 minutes, 52 seconds
6 August 27, 1985 STS-51-I Launched two communications satellites including LEASAT F4. Recovered, repaired, and redeployed LEASAT F3. 7 days, 02 hours,
17 minutes, 42 seconds
7 September 29, 1988 STS-26 Return to flight after Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, launched TDRS. 4 days, 01 hours,
00 minutes, 11 seconds
8 March 13, 1989 STS-29 Launched TDRS. 4 days, 23 hours,
38 minutes, 52 seconds
9 November 22, 1989 STS-33 Launched DOD Magnum ELINT satellite. 5 days, 00 hours,
06 minutes, 49 seconds
10 April 24, 1990 STS-31 Launch of Hubble Space Telescope (HST). 5 days, 01 hours,
16 minutes, 06 seconds
11 October 6, 1990 STS-41 Launch of Ulysses. 4 days, 02 hours,
10 minutes, 04 seconds
12 April 28, 1991 STS-39 Launched DOD Air Force Program-675 (AFP-675) satellite. 8 days, 07 hours,
22 minutes, 23 seconds
13 September 12, 1991 STS-48 Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS). 5 days, 08 hours,
27 minutes, 38 seconds
14 January 22, 1992 STS-42 International Microgravity Laboratory-1 (IML-1). 8 days, 01 hours,
14 minutes, 44 seconds
15 December 2, 1992 STS-53 Department of Defense payload. 7 days, 07 hours,
19 minutes, 47 seconds
16 April 8, 1993 STS-56 Atmospheric Laboratory (ATLAS-2). 9 days, 06 hours,
08 minutes, 24 seconds
17 September 12, 1993 STS-51 Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS). 9 days, 20 hours,
11 minutes, 11 seconds
18 February 3, 1994 STS-60 First Shuttle-Mir mission; Wake Shield Facility (WSF). First Russian launched in an American spacecraft (Sergei Krikalev). 8 days, 07 hours,
09 minutes, 22 seconds
19 September 9, 1994 STS-64 LIDAR In-Space Technology Experiment (LITE). 10 days, 22 hours,
49 minutes, 57 seconds
20 February 3, 1995 STS-63 Rendezvous with Mir space station. First female shuttle pilot Eileen Collins.[2] 8 days, 06 hours,
29 minutes, 36 seconds
21 July 13, 1995 STS-70 7th Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS). 8 days, 22 hours,
20 minutes, 05 seconds
22 February 11, 1997 STS-82 Servicing Hubble Space Telescope (HST) (HSM-2). 9 days, 23 hours,
38 minutes, 09 seconds
23 August 7, 1997 STS-85 Cryogenic Infrared Spectrometers and Telescopes (CRISTA). 11 days, 20 hours,
28 minutes, 07 seconds
24 June 2, 1998 STS-91 Final Shuttle/Mir Docking Mission. 9 days, 19 hours,
55 minutes, 01 seconds
25 October 29, 1998 STS-95 SPACEHAB, second flight of John Glenn, who was 77 years of age at that time, the oldest man in space and third incumbent member of Congress to enter space. Pedro Duque became the first Spaniard in space. 8 days, 21 hours,
44 minutes, 56 seconds
26 May 27, 1999 STS-96 First Orbiter Shuttle and first mission flight to dock with the International Space Station[2] 9 days, 19 hours,
13 minutes, 57 seconds
27 December 19, 1999 STS-103 Servicing Hubble Space Telescope (HST) (HSM-3A). 7 days, 23 hours,
11 minutes, 34 seconds
28 October 11, 2000 STS-92 International Space Station Assembly Flight (carried and assembled the Z1 truss); 100th Shuttle mission. 12 days, 21 hours,
43 minutes, 47 seconds
29 March 8, 2001 STS-102 International Space Station crew rotation flight (Expedition 1 and Expedition 2) 12 days, 19 hours,
51 minutes, 57 seconds
30 August 10, 2001 STS-105 International Space Station crew and supplies delivery (Expedition 2 and Expedition 3) 11 days 21 hours,
13 minutes, 52 seconds
31 July 26, 2005 STS-114 First "Return To Flight" mission since Space Shuttle Columbia disaster; International Space Station (ISS) supplies delivery, new safety procedures testing and evaluation, Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Raffaello. 13 days, 21 hours,
33 minutes, 00 seconds
32 July 4, 2006 STS-121 Second "Return To Flight" mission since the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster; International Space Station (ISS) supplies delivery, test new safety and repair techniques. 12 days, 18 hours,
37 minutes, 54 seconds
33 December 9, 2006 STS-116 ISS crew rotation and assembly (carries and assembles the P5 truss segment); Last flight to launch on pad 39-B;
First night launch since Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
12 days, 20 hours,
44 minutes, 16 seconds
34 October 23, 2007 STS-120 ISS crew rotation and assembly (carries and assembles the Harmony module). 15 days, 02 hours,
23 minutes, 55 seconds
35 May 31, 2008 STS-124 ISS crew rotation and assembly (carries and assembles the Kibō JEM PM module). 13 days, 18 hours,
13 minutes, 07 seconds
36 March 15, 2009 STS-119 International Space Station crew rotation and assembly of a fourth
starboard truss segment (ITS S6) and a fourth set of solar arrays and batteries. Also replaced a failed unit for a system that converts urine to drinking water.
12 days, 19 hours,
29 minutes, 33 seconds
37 August 28, 2009 STS-128 International Space Station crew rotation and ISS resupply using the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module. Also carried the C.O.L.B.E.R.T treadmill named after Stephen Colbert 13 days 20 hours, 54 minutes, 40 seconds
38 April 5, 2010 STS-131 ISS resupply using the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module. The mission also marked the first time that four women were in space and the first time that two Japanese astronauts were together on a space station[29]. Longest mission for this Orbiter. 15 days 2 hours, 47 minutes 11 seconds‡
39 February 24, 2011 STS-133 The mission launched at 4:53 pm EST on February 24, was carrying the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) Leonardo, the ELC-4 and Robonaut 2 to the ISS.[30] 12 days 19 hours,
4 minutes, 50 seconds

‡ Longest shuttle mission for Discovery
– shortest shuttle mission for Discovery

Mission and tribute insigniasEdit

NASA Orbiter Tribute for Space Shuttle Discovery
Mission insignias for Discovery flights
STS 26
STS 29
STS 33
STS 31
STS 41
STS 39
STS 48
STS 42
STS 53
STS 56
STS 51
STS 60
STS 64
STS 63
STS 70
STS 82
STS 85
STS 91
STS 95
STS 96
STS 103
STS 92
STS 102
STS 105
STS 114
STS 121
STS 116
STS 120
STS 124
STS 119
STS 128
STS 131
STS 133

Flow directorsEdit

The Flow Director was responsible for the overall preparation of the shuttle for launch and processing it after landing, and remained permanently assigned to head the spacecraft's ground crew while the astronaut flight crews changed for every mission. Each shuttle's Flow Director was supported by a Vehicle Manager for the same spacecraft. Space shuttle Discovery's Flow Directors were:


The launch of STS-41-D, Discovery’s first mission. STS-121 launched on July 4, 2006 – the first and only shuttle to launch on Independence Day. STS-119 on the night of March 11, 2009. Discovery sits atop a modified Boeing 747 as it touches down. Discovery lands after its first flight, STS-41-D.
Discovery performing the Rendezvous pitch maneuver prior to docking with the International Space Station. The Space Shuttle Discovery soon after landing Modified Boeing 747 carrying Discovery. STS-124 comes to a close as Discovery lands at the Kennedy Space Center. Discovery's final touchdown on Kennedy Space Center's runway, concluding the STS-133 mission and Discovery's 27-year career.

See alsoEdit


  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

  1. ^ a b "Space Shuttle Discovery Joins the National Collection". April 12, 2011. Retrieved July 31, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Space Shuttle Discovery Facts". Florida Today. April 10, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c NASA (October 2010). "NASAfacts Discovery (OV-103)" (PDF). Retrieved October 21, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c NASA (2007). "Space Shuttle Overview: Discovery (OV-103)". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved November 6, 2007. 
  5. ^ "10 Cool Facts About NASA's Space Shuttle Discovery | Space Shuttle Retirement". Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  6. ^ "Discovery’s last mission flight to space begun". February 24, 2011. Retrieved March 9, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Discovery’s Final Touchdown A Success". Retrieved March 9, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Discovery (OV-103)". Retrieved February 28, 2015. 
  9. ^ "How Did the Space Shuttle Discovery Get Its Name?". Retrieved February 28, 2015. 
  10. ^ a b "Discovery (OV-103)". NASA/KSC. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c d "Space Shuttle Overview: Discovery (OV-103)". NASA. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Space Transportation System Haer No. TX-116" (PDF). Retrieved February 28, 2015. 
  13. ^ "STS-41D Press Kit" (PDF). NASA. August 1984. p. 13. Retrieved 12 July 2013. Graphite epoxy has replaced some internal aluminum spars and beams in the wings and in the payload bay doors. 
  14. ^ Lardas, Mark (2012). Space Shuttle Launch System: 1972–2004. Osprey Publishing. p. 37. 
  15. ^ Pearlman, Robert Z. "Space Shuttle Discovery lands, for the last time, in Washington, D.C.". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved April 17, 2012. The air- and spacecraft duo landed at Washington Dulles International Airport at 11:05 am EDT (1505 GMT). 
  16. ^ "Consolidated Launch Manifest". NASA. 2007. Retrieved October 10, 2007. 
  17. ^ Bergin, Chris (2006). "NASA sets new launch date targets through to STS-124". Retrieved October 15, 2007. 
  18. ^ Chow, Denise. "Space Shuttle Discovery Lands on Earth After Final Voyage". Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  19. ^ Pearlman, Robert (2008). "NASA seeks shuttle suitors: Museums may need to cover the costs for retired orbiters". Retrieved December 17, 2008. 
  20. ^ "NASA Solicits Ideas for Displaying Retired Space Shuttles and Main Engines" (Press release). NASA. December 17, 2009. Retrieved January 23, 2013. 
  21. ^ Berger, Eric (December 7, 2009). "Discovery is Smithsonian's". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  22. ^ Pearlman, Robert Z. (March 17, 2010). "NASA Primes Retired Test Shuttle Enterprise For One Last Flight". Retrieved March 14, 2011. 
  23. ^ "news – "NASA readies retired test shuttle Enterprise for one last flight"". collectSPACE. 2010-03-15. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  24. ^ "NYC, L.A., Kennedy Space Center, Smithsonian to get the 4 retired space shuttles". USA Today. April 12, 2011. 
  25. ^ "Welcome, Discovery!". Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Retrieved January 30, 2012. 
  26. ^ Associated Press/NBC Washington (January 24, 2012). "Udvar-Hazy Center Getting a 2nd Space Shuttle". NBC Washington. Retrieved January 30, 2012. 
  27. ^ Dunn, Marcia (March 9, 2011). "Space shuttle Discovery lands, ends flying career". Salt Lake Tribune. Associated Press. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  28. ^ Travis, Matthew (February 24, 2011). "STS-133 space shuttle Discovery launches for the final time". The Spacearium, via YouTube. Retrieved June 23, 2011. 
  29. ^ FOUR WOMEN, TWO JAPANESE IN SPACE AT SAME TIME Asian American Press, April 8, 2010
  30. ^ "Shuttle Discovery takes off on its final flight". CNN. February 24, 2011. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  31. ^ a b
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^

External linksEdit