Last blast for the Discovery shuttle

The shuttle Discovery blasted off yesterday on its final odyssey into orbit, marking the beginning of the end for what has been a central mission of the U.S. space program for three decades.
NASA's most travelled shuttle launched at 4: 53 p.m. on an 11-day trip to the International Space Station (ISS). When it returns next month it will be the first of the threemember fleet to retire.
The shuttle will bring a spare closet module and the first humanoid robot to the ISS. The mission will also include two spacewalks.
The end of the shuttle program will create a gaping hole in the U.S. space program during a period of belttightening and budget freezes, and will leave Russia's space capsules as the sole transit option to the ISS.
"Bittersweet" was the word of the day at Kennedy Space Center as astronauts, engineers and space fans crowded in to get a glimpse of history by watching Discovery's final launch 27 years after it first flew into space.
"There is no doubt the space shuttle is an engineering marvel. People have dedicated their lives for decades to build and operate the space shuttle - these are some of the greatest engineers and scientists that our nation has," said NASA chief technologist Bob Braun. "But it is an older vehicle, it is 30 years old, it was designed probably a decade before that."
"I think we all recognize we need to go to the next chapter. But any time you go to that next chapter, it is bittersweet."
When Discovery wraps up this tour, the oldest surviving shuttle will have flown more missions than any of its cohorts and toted 180 people into space, including the first female shuttle commander and the first African-American spacewalker. The other two shuttles are scheduled for their final flights later this year.

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