Space shuttle program hits 30-year mark

Thirty years on, NASA's space shuttle program is now in its last lap, but its place in history is assured.

On the morning of April 12, 1981, the shuttle Columbia, strapped to an enormous external fuel tank and a pair of solid rocket boosters, lifted off on its maiden voyage--and launched a new era in the Space Age. Never before had there been a spacecraft that could be used over and over again, that could land on Earth like an airplane--a glider, specifically.

That flight lasted 2 days, 6 hours, 20 minutes, and 53 seconds, in which time … Read more

Shuttle Discovery's last hurrah

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Shuttle Discovery's last flight

Discovery returns to Earth after flawless final flight

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Enduring the heat of re-entry one last time, the shuttle Discovery dropped out of orbit and returned to Earth today to wrap up a near-flawless 39th and final mission, marking the beginning of the end for NASA's winged rocket ships.

After firing its twin braking rockets for a computer-controlled descent halfway around the planet, commander Steven Lindsey took over manual control and guided Discovery through a 250-degree left turn to line up on runway 15.

Pilot Eric Boe then deployed the ship's landing gear and the 204,000-pound shuttle swooped to a tire-smoking touchdown … Read more

Shuttle Discovery bids space station final farewell

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--The crew of the shuttle Discovery, given a "Star Trek" send off by actor William Shatner, undocked from the International Space Station early today to close out an extended assembly and resupply mission, the shuttle's 13th and final visit to the orbital outpost.

With pilot Eric Boe at the controls, Discovery's docking system disengaged from the station's forward port at 7 a.m. ET as the two spacecraft sailed through orbital darkness above the western Pacific Ocean northeast of Australia.

"Houston and station, physical separation," commander Steven Lindsey called … Read more

Air Force launches second mysterious space plane

A second mysterious, robotic space plane was launched into orbit by the U.S. Air Force today, after the first craft safely returned to Earth late last year following a secretive months-long mission and speculation about its potential military or intelligence uses.

The second Boeing-built X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, left Cape Canaveral, Fla., at 2:46 p.m. PT, atop an Atlas V rocket, Boeing said.

"History was made in December when the X-37B became the United States' first unmanned vehicle to return from space and land on its own," Craig Cooning, vice president and general … Read more

Discovery docks for last tango with space station

HOUSTON--The shuttle Discovery glided to a picture-perfect docking with the International Space Station on Saturday, the veteran space plane's 13th and final linkup with the orbiting outpost.

With commander Steven Lindsey manually flying Discovery from the aft flight deck, the shuttle's payload bay docking system engaged its counterpart on the front end of the station's Harmony module at 1:14 p.m. CST.

"Station and Houston, Discovery has capture confirmed," an astronaut radioed.

The historic linkup marked the first time in the station's 12-year history that spacecraft from the United States, Russia, the European … Read more

With seconds to spare, Discovery rockets into space

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--After a last-minute Air Force computer glitch threatened to derail launch, the shuttle Discovery, carrying an all-veteran crew of six, critical supplies, and a final U.S. module for the International Space Station, blasted off with seconds to spare and vaulted into orbit Thursday to begin its 39th and final flight.

Several relatively large pieces of foam insulation fell away from the shuttle's repaired external tank during the climb to space, including some that hit the ship's heat shield. But the observed impacts occurred well after Discovery was out of the dense lower atmosphere … Read more

Giffords' husband resumes training for shuttle flight

Just one month after U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot in the head in Tucson, Ariz., her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, announced Friday that he will resume training Monday to command the shuttle Endeavour during its final flight in April. He said his recuperating wife "would be very comfortable with the decision I made."

What input Giffords may have provided was not clear because "I just don't want to go into details about her condition," Kelly told reporters during a news conference at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Then people speculate … Read more

Injured shuttle astronaut replaced six weeks before launch

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Less than six weeks before launch, astronaut Timothy Kopra, injured in a bicycle accident Saturday, was removed from the crew of the shuttle Discovery today and replaced by astronaut Stephen Bowen, a veteran spacewalker who flew aboard the shuttle Atlantis last May. Despite the last-minute crew change, NASA officials say Bowen should be able to complete a hurried round of refresher training in time for blastoff around February 24.

"As anybody would be this close to flight, [Kopra]'s disappointed," chief astronaut Peggy Whitson told reporters. "His crew made very tight bonds and … Read more

NASA names backup shuttle commander for Kelly flight

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Veteran shuttle commander Frederick Sturckow will replace Mark Kelly in near-term training for a flight aboard the shuttle Endeavour in April, NASA announced today. With Kelly's wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in critical condition in Tucson with a gunshot wound to the head, the substitution will free Kelly to remain at her bedside while ensuring his crewmates complete critical flight training.

NASA officials said Kelly, who endorsed the decision, remains the designated commander of shuttle mission STS-134. Sturckow will begin training with Endeavour's crew next week.

"I recommended to my management that we take … Read more