Discovery leaves space station for the last time

Discovery, the world`s most travelled spaceship, left the ISS today for the last time.

Updated: Mar 07, 2011, 22:26 PM IST

Cape Canaveral (Florida): Discovery, the world`s most travelled spaceship, left the International Space Station today for the last time, getting a send-off by the dozen orbiting astronauts as well as "Star Trek`s" original Capt Kirk.
The shuttle undocked from the station as the two craft sailed more than 320 kms above the Pacific, just north of New Guinea. Station skipper Scott Kelly rang his ship`s bell in true naval tradition, as the shuttle backed away. "Discovery departing," he called out.

This is the final flight for Discovery, which is due back on Earth on Wednesday. It`s being retired and sent to the Smithsonian Institution for display.

NASA`s two other shuttles will join Discovery in retirement, following their upcoming missions. Discovery`s six astronauts got a special greeting in advance of their space station departure.

Actor William Shatner, who played Capt James Kirk on the original "Star Trek" TV series, paid tribute to Discovery`s voyages over the decades. "Space, the final frontier," Shatner said in a prerecorded message. "These have been the voyages of the space shuttle Discovery. Her 30-year mission: to seek out new science, to build new outposts, to bring nations together on the final frontier, to boldly go and do what no spacecraft has done before."

Shatner`s words were followed by this morning`s wake-up music, "Theme from Star Trek." It was the runner-up in a pick-the-wake-up-music contest sponsored by NASA. The No 1 vote-getter will be beamed up tomorrow.

Discovery will have racked up nearly 240 million kms by trip`s end, accumulated over 39 missions and nearly 27 years, and spent 365 days total in space. It flew to the space station 13 times.

Immediately after undocking, Discovery performed a victory lap around the orbiting outpost, where it spent the past nine days. The two crews beamed down breathtaking pictures of each other`s vessel, with the blue cloud-specked planet as the backdrop.

Close-up shots showed many of the individual compartments of the bigger-than-ever station. "It looks beautiful," Kelly said of the shuttle.

Discovery and its crew delivered a new storage compartment, as well as an equipment platform and the first humanoid robot in space. Both of the large items were successfully installed, and the shuttle astronauts even did some extra chores during their two extra days at the station.

It ended up being a 13-day mission for Discovery.