The 39th and final mission for space shuttle Discovery, STS-133 was also the 35th shuttle visit to the International Space Station. The 13-day mission delivered the Permanent Multi-Purpose Module — a "storage closet" for the orbiting outpost — and ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4) carrying spare components. The mission, which included two spacewalks, also carried the first humanoid robot designed to assist astronauts, Robonaut 2 (R2).
Space shuttle Discovery launched on Feb. 24, 2011, at 4:53 p.m. EST (2153 GMT) and landed on March 9 at 10:57 a.m. (1657 GMT) on the 133rd flight in space shuttle history and the orbiter's last mission.
Steven Lindsey commanded Discovery's six-person STS-133 crew. Eric Boe was pilot. Mission specialists were Michael Barratt, Stephen Bowen, Nicole Stott and Alvin Drew.
The world's most often flown spacecraft is back on Earth to stay.
Space shuttle Discovery touched down in Florida on Wednesday, making its 39th and final landing to successfully complete a 14-day mission that delivered the last U.S.-segment pressurized module to the International Space Station (ISS).
Commander Steven Lindsey piloted Discovery and his five STS-133 crew mates to an arrival at 10:57:17 a.m. CST (1657 GMT) on Runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida.
"Houston, Discovery, for the final time, wheels stop," announced Lindsey as Discovery came to rest 12 days, 19 hours, 4 minutes and 50 seconds after launching on Feb. 24. The main gear first touched down 57 seconds earlier.
"That was a great landing in a tough condition," radioed capcom Charles Hobaugh to Lindsey from Mission Control. The "tough condition" was in reference to a strong headwind that slowed Discovery's final approach.
"It was an awesome docked mission that you all had," Hobaugh said. "You were able to take Discovery up to a full 365 days of actual time on orbit. I think you would call that a fleet leader and a leader of any manned vehicle for a time in orbit. So job well done."
Landing with Lindsey were pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott, Steve Bowen, Alvin Drew and Stephen Bowen.
"We believe, if we did our math right, which we may not have, this is 365 days on orbit for Discovery. An entire year in space," said Lindsey after exiting the shuttle and taking the customary walk-around of his ship.
In the course of that time, Discovery made 5,830 orbits of Earth, logging 148,221,675 miles.
Credit: NASA TV
"Discovery launched and came back on this flight just like my previous two flights on Discovery, with absolutely no leans against her, no single system with any problems whatsoever," said Lindsey. "If you think about a vehicle that is 26, 27 years old that has been flying for that long, to come back perfect, I have never seen an airplane be able to do that."
"It is a pretty bittersweet moment for all of us. As the minutes pass, I am actually getting sadder and sadder about this being the last flight. I know all the folks involved in the shuttle program feel the same way," admitted Lindsey.
NASA's third orbiter to be built and enter service, Discovery's first flight, STS-41D, launched in August 1984. It flew a total of 39 times, including both of NASA's "return to flight" missions following the loss of Challenger and Columbia. Discovery deployed the Hubble Space Telescope and the Ulysses solar probe and was the first ever to recover satellites from orbit. It was the first shuttle to visit the ISS and delivered its largest laboratory, Japan's Kibo pressurized module.
Space shuttle Discovery, flying Mach 25 over the South Pacific Ocean with its nose tipped up and its wings level, encountered the first traces of the Earth's atmosphere, known as "entry interface," at 10:25 a.m. CST at an altitude of 400,000 feet while still 5,055 miles from Kennedy Space Center.
Commander Steve Lindsey fired Discovery's orbital maneuvering system engines at 9:52:04 a.m. CST for two minutes and 27 seconds, slowing the orbiter's velocity by about 200 miles per hour, beginning his and his five crewmates' return to Earth.
Discovery is on its way home after a successful final mission, its 14-day flight to deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) Leonardo and Express Logistics Carrier-4 (ELC4) to the International Space Station.
Landing on Runway 15 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center is set for 10:57 a.m. CDT.
Space shuttle Discovery, flying its final mission, will be returning today to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Flight controllers gave STS-133 mission commander Steven Lindsey the word that he was "go" to perform the deorbit burn that will begin the shuttle's 39th and final journey back into the Earth's atmosphere.
Lindsey will fire Discovery's orbital maneuvering system engines at 9:52:04 a.m. CST, setting up a 10:57 a.m. touchdown on Runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility.
Space shuttle Discovery's two 60-foot payload bay doors were closed at 7:19 a.m. CST and STS-133 commander Steve Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe, and flight engineer Nicole Stott began changing over the shuttle's flight controls from OPS-2, the software used they used for on-orbit operations, to OPS-3, used for reentry and landing, about five minutes later.
The preparations are leading up to Discovery performing a deorbit burn at 9:52 a.m. CST, setting up a 10:57 a.m. touchdown on Runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility, weather permitting.
"The weather is looking very favorable at [Kennedy] right now as far as ceilings and visibility. Winds were about half of what is forecast." radioed capcom Charles Hobaugh from Mission Control. "So KSC is shaping up pretty good for the first opportunity."
If the weather cooperates in Florida, space shuttle Discovery will roll to its final wheel stop on Kennedy Space Center's Runway 15 this morning.
The STS-133 crew members woke for what is scheduled to be their last day in space at 2:23 a.m. CST. Their wake up song, dedicated by the International Space Station flight control teams that supported them, was "Coming Home" by Gwyneth Paltrow.
"We certainly appreciate that coming from the ISS flight control team," radioed Discovery's commander Steve Lindsey. "They did just a bang up job from start to finish on this mission. Looking forward to a good day."
Credit: NASA TV
The crew is scheduled to begin deorbit preparations at 5:53 a.m. and close the doors to Discovery's payload bay at 7:12 a.m. The crew will be getting into their orange launch and entry suits at 8:29 a.m. and climbing into their seats at 8:52 a.m.
At 9:42 a.m., entry flight director Tony Ceccacci is scheduled to conduct his flight control team for a "go" or "no-go" for Discovery's deorbit burn. Assuming he gets a "go," Discovery's engines will fire for its deorbit burn at 9:52 a.m.
That'll drop Discovery back into Earth's atmosphere, setting up Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott for a 10:57 a.m. landing.
At that point, space shuttle Discovery will have spent a total of 365 days in space, over the course of 39 missions. It will have orbited the Earth 5,830 times and traveled more than 148 million miles.
If needed, there is a second return opportunity to Kennedy at 12:34 p.m. It would require a deorbit burn at 11:29 a.m.
Mission managers have cleared space shuttle Discovery's heat shield for its final return from space.
"Just got an update from the MMT [mission management team] that they reviewed your late inspection information and all the data that came down and you are go for entry," capcom Charles Hobaugh advised the crew.
"They found nothing of significance," he added.
"Great news!" replied STS-133 commander Steve Lindsey from orbit.
Yesterday after undocking from the International Space Station, the crew conducted a "final inspection" of the shuttle's thermal protection system using the orbiter boom sensor system (OBSS) and its suite of cameras. The imagery collected during that survey, was downlinked to the ground for analysis to ensure that no damage has been done to Discovery while it has been in space.
"In the mission management team today we reviewed a few items," MMT chair LeRoy Cain. We reviewed the completion of the thermal protection system inspection and there were no issues there."
The team reported on one items from the flight control system checkout. There was a [power] transient on one of the flight control system avionics boxes... it has recovered. So that will be no issue for us."
"We are very happy to bringing STS-133 to a close in the fashion that we are. We look forward to landing tomorrow," said Cain.
Discovery has two opportunities to land Wednesday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The first begins with a deorbit burn at 9:52 a.m. CST, setting up a landing at 10:57 a.m.
The second has Discovery firing its twin orbital maneuvering engines at 11:29 a.m., leading to a 12:34 p.m. touchdown.
Blue Sky ahead: Discovery's last full day in space
The STS-133 crew received another special wakeup call on Tuesday, as they began what is expected to be space shuttle Discovery's last full day in space.
Fly home on your silver wings, with your new song for the world to sing, light this candle, make it right... Believe and you will find blue sky.
The wakeup call at 2:23 a.m. CST was "Blue Sky" by Big Head Todd and the Monsters. The song was performed live by Todd Park Mohr, vocalist and lead guitarist of the band, accompanied by fellow band mates Brian Nevin, Rob Squires and Jeremy Lawton.
The song received the most votes in NASA's Space Rock wakeup song contest receiving 722,662 votes (29 percent of the 2,463,774 total). "Blue Sky" was written as a tribute to the space program and its workforce and is routinely played in concert by the four-member band.
Discovery's crew will spend today preparing their shuttle for Wednesday's landing, which is targeted for 10:57 a.m. CST at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Commander Steve Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe, and mission specialist Nicole Stott will be performing a checkout of Discovery's flight control systems and firing its reaction control system jets. All members of the crew will work together to stow hardware and equipment.
Discovery is NASA's oldest flying orbiter. Built after Columbia and Challenger, Discovery returned the fleet to flight after the 1986 and 2003 losses of its older shuttle siblings.
With 39 flights, Discovery is the most-flown spacecraft in history.
The solid rocket boosters launching Discovery's STS-133 mission were assembled from segments flown on 54 earlier space shuttle missions, including both of Discovery's return to flight missions.
Discovery's three main engines have flown on 21 previous flights, including Discovery's 1998 mission STS-95 that returned Senator John Glenn to space.
When first announced by NASA in September 2009, the STS-133 astronauts were billed as "the crew for the final scheduled shuttle mission." In April 2010, the agency rescheduled Discovery's final mission, STS-133, to fly before Endeavour's, STS-134.
The Permanent Multi-Purpose Module (PMM), which Discovery is launching and attaching to the space station, has flown in space seven times before. Known earlier as the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, it served as a "moving van" to deliver supplies and equipment to the station.
Although the STS-133 crew are all veterans of spaceflight, this will be mission specialist Michael Barratt's first time riding onboard a shuttle. For his first mission, during which he spent six months on the space station, Barratt flew on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Mission specialists Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott learned they were assigned to STS-133 while they were still conducting their previous mission onboard the space station, marking the first time in history when astronauts in orbit were named to their next flight.
Mission specialist Stephen Bowen is the first NASA astronaut to fly on consecutive missions. Having flown onboard Atlantis' STS-132 mission last May, Bowen was added to Discovery's STS-133 crew after astronaut Tim Kopra was injured in a bike accident less than six weeks from launch.
Prior to flying STS-133, Discovery logged 142,917,535 miles while orbiting the Earth 5,628 times over the course of 351 days.
This is Discovery's 13th trip to the International Space Station. It also visited Russia's Mir space station once.