End of an era: NASA's Discovery comes home

The NASA space shuttle Discovery touched down for the last time this morning after completing its final mission.

For the final time, NASA's space shuttle Discovery returned from a journey into space, safely touching down Tuesday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

After spending a 365 days in orbit in multiple missions, Discovery landed at 11:57 a.m. EST today. The shuttle, which first launched into space in August 1984, returned from its final rendezvous with the International Space Station.

With NASA in the process of retiring its shuttle fleet, this was Discovery's final mission. In 26-plus years of space flight, the shuttle craft has flown more than 5,304,000 miles, a NASA mission specialist said today.

During the final space flight, the six-member crew delivered spare parts, supplies, experiments and a humanoid robot to the space station. NASA is trying to load the space station up with spare parts and supplies before the shuttles are officially out of commission later this year.

The robot, named Robonaut 2 , or R2, is the space station's first humanoid robot. It's designed to help the astronauts living on the station do odd jobs, and one day even assist them with dangerous spacewalks.

This latest mission, which was extended a day to become a 12-day journey, was the 39th Discovery's career. Considered a "fleet leader," the craft returned the United States to space flight after the shuttles Challenger and Columbia accidents. It was also the shuttle that carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit, and it has since gone aloft twice so astronauts could maintain the telescope.

Discovery also was the first shuttle with a female pilot, Commander Eileen Collins .

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin , or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

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