he space shuttle Discovery embarked on its 39th and final mission Thursday afternoon. Since its maiden trip in 1984, Discovery has logged 352 days in orbit, circling the Earth 5,628 times and traveling 143 million miles. The ship will be retired after this flight, as NASA winds down the 30-year-old shuttle program. (The agency plans only two more space shuttle missions, one each for Endeavour and Atlantis.) Here, a look at some of Discovery's milestones through the years:
August 27, 1979
Construction begins on Discovery, the third space shuttle in NASA's fleet. It would take four years to complete. Inside the space agency, Discovery is also known as Orbiter Vehicle-103, or OV-103.
August 30, 1984
Discovery blasts off for the first time. Astronauts deploy three satellites during a six-day mission.
September 29, 1988
Discovery undertakes the first shuttle mission since the Challenger disaster of January 28, 1986, in which seven crew members were killed.
April 24, 1990
The shuttle carries the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit.
February 3, 1995
Eileen Collins becomes the first female to pilot a space shuttle, taking Discovery on NASA's first mission to rendezvous with the Russian space station Mir.
October 29, 1998
At age 77, John Glenn returns to space aboard Discovery, becoming the oldest person to travel in space.
July 26, 2005
Discovery is again used for a NASA "Return to Flight" mission following a tragedy — in this case, the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia on Feb. 1, 2003, in which seven astronauts were killed.
February 24, 2011
Discovery blasts off from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., for its 39th flight. It carries a crew of six astronauts on an 11-day mission to deliver supplies and a human-like robot to the International Space Station.
Sources: Digital Trends, NASA, Voice of America, Washington Post
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