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After 30 years of excitement, tragedy, and exploration that no other country matched, NASA’s Space Shuttle program is officially retired.  As a space geek, I find the retirement sad, but NASA promises new programs for astronauts in the near-term future. Via The Atlantic’s inFocus:

Space Shuttle Discovery’s Final Flight

Apr 18, 2012 |

Having last traveled to low Earth orbit in March 2011, NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery took to the skies one last time yesterday, piggybacking on a modified Boeing 747. The shuttle left Florida and landed just outside of Washington, D.C., where it will join the collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. Discovery, the fleet leader of NASA’s orbiters, flew 39 successful missions over 27 years, accumulating 365 total days in space. Tomorrow, a welcome ceremony is planned at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Gathered here are images from Discovery’s last flight. [30 photos]

NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft transports the space shuttle Discovery to its new home, after departing from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on April 17, 2012. The aircraft, known as an SCA, is a Boeing 747 jet that was modified by NASA to transport the shuttles between destinations on Earth. (NASA/Lorne Mathre)
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Discovery executes a three-point turnaround outside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, readying for its trip to the Shuttle Landing Facility, on April 14, 2012. A tail cone has been installed over its three replica shuttle main engines to reduce aerodynamic drag and turbulence during its upcoming ferry flight. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Discovery makes its way to the Shuttle Landing Facility in darkness at Kennedy Space Center, on April 14, 2012. (NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

Discovery is towed out of the Vehicle Assembly Building for the last time, to the mate-demate facility at Kennedy Space Center, on April 14, 2012. (Reuters/Micheal R Brown)

At the Shuttle Landing Facility, operations are under way at the mate-demate device to lift Discovery on top of a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, on April 14, 2012. The device, known as the MDD, is a large gantry-like steel structure used to hoist a shuttle off the ground and position it onto the back of the aircraft. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Discovery is slowly lifted off the ground inside the mate-demate device in preparation for the arrival of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, on April 15, 2012. (NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft moves into position under space shuttle Discovery, suspended 60 feet off the ground in the mate-demate device, on April 15, 2012. (NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

Workers in the mate-demate device attach space shuttle Discovery to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft on April 15, 2012. (NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

In the early morning hours of April 16, 2012, at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility, the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft with space shuttle Discovery atop, backs away from the mate/demate device. (NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

Space Center workers watch as the space shuttle Discovery is towed from the Mate Demate facility while attached to a modified NASA 747 aircraft at Kennedy Space Center, on April 16, 2012. (Reuters/Joe Skipper)

The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft with Discovery attached atop, backs away from the mate-demate device, on April 16, 2012. (NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

An aerial view of the long Shuttle Landing Facility SLF runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center that space shuttle Discovery, bolted to the top of a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, will take off from on April 17. Photo taken on April 16, 2012. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

From left, Alvin Drew, Nicole Stott, Mike Barratt, Steve Bowen, Eric Boe, and Steve Lindsey, the last crew of space shuttle Discovery, which sits atop NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft ready to transport from Kennedy Space Center to Washington, D.C., on April 16, 2012. (Roberto Gonzalez/Getty Images)

NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, carrying Discovery, taxis down the runway for a takeoff at 7 a.m. EDT, on April 17, 2012. In the background is the 525-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building. (NASA/Glenn Benson)

NASA’s shuttle carrier aircraft lifts Discovery from the runway at Kennedy Space Center, on April 17, 2012. (Bruce Weaver/AFP/Getty Images)

The space shuttle Discovery attached to its 747 transport takes off from Kennedy Space Center on April 17, 2012. (U.S. Navy/Chief Petty Officer James B. Clark)

Just after sunrise, visitors to Florida’s Cocoa Beach catch a final glimpse of Discovery flying from the Space Coast to its new home in Virginia, on April 17, 2012. (NASA/R. D. Lee)

Space shuttle Discovery, mounted atop a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, flies over a Washington, D.C. neighborhood, as seen from a NASA T-38 aircraft, in this April 17, 2012 photo. (Reuters/Robert Markowitz/NASA)

Sixth-graders visiting the Capitol from from the Stratford Academy in Macon, Georgia, watch the final voyage of the space shuttle Discovery as it soars above Washington, D.C. after a flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on, April 17, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Space shuttle Discovery, mounted atop a shuttle carrier aircraft, flies by the Washington Monument during a flyover of the nation’s capital on its final trip, on April 17, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Discovery, aboard a shuttle carrier aircraft, flies over Washington, D.C., on April 17, 2012, as seen from Arlington, Virginia. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

Discovery flies over the Washington, D.C. skyline on April 17, 2012. (Reuters/Robert Markowitz/NASA)

Spectators atop the U.S. Capitol Building watch as Discovery and a a NASA T-38 aircraft fly past the Washington Monument, on April 17, 2012. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

People gather to watch the arrival of the space shuttle Discovery at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, on April 17, 2012 in Chantilly, Virginia. Hundreds of people arrived early in the morning to watch the arrival of the shuttle from the parking lot of the center. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Space shuttle Discovery flies over NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, on April 17, 2012. The flight path included Goddard as a nod to the many support and communications specialists working with the Shuttle program at Goddard during Discovery’s 39 missions. (NASA/GSFC/James Cusick)

People watch a fly-over of Discovery at Washington Dulles International Airport during the final trip to its retirement place, on April 17, 2012 in Chantilly, Virginia. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Discovery, riding atop a NASA 747 transport, is pictured in the skies over Dulles International Airport in Virginia, on April 17, 2012. (Reuters/Michael Berrigan)

Discovery and the shuttle carrier aircraft land at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, on Tuesday, April 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

A young boy wears an astronaut costume in the parking lot of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, on April 17, 2012 in Chantilly, Virginia. Hundreds of people gathered at the museum early in the morning to watch the arrival of the space shuttle Discovery. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Its final flight complete, the space shuttle Discovery, sits on the Dulles International Airport tarmac under blue skies, on April 17, 2012. Discovery will be lifted from the carrier aircraft shortly, and will towed to the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center for display. (Reuters/Gary Cameron)

One Response to “Discovery’s Last Flight”

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