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Final countdown: Space shuttle Discovery blasts off for the last time today


It’s the end of an era for space travel. After nearly three decades, NASA space shuttle Discovery will launch for the last time today. Liftoff is set for 4:50pm [EST] from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

For Discovery’s last mission, called STS-133, the six-member crew will deliver supplies to the International Space Station, including a permanent storage module, a science rig and variety of essential spare parts. Discovery will also bring along a humanoid robot assistant named Robonaut 2, which will remain at the International Space Station permanently. The mission is set to last 11 days.

Discovery was originally set to blast off in November, but complications with the shuttle’s external hydrogen fuel tank’s support beams caused a four-month delay. NASA says it is confident that no such problems will occur during this mission.

The fuel tank is 15 stories tall, and holds more than 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. It takes roughly three hours to fill the tank, and the process began at 7:25am this morning.

STS-133 will be Discovery’s 39th mission since it began traveling to space in 1984. Discovery has spent 352 days in orbit, during which time it traveled a total of 143 million miles and circled Earth 5,628 times. It has also carried more NASA crew members than any other space vehicle in history — a total of 246.

Veteran NASA astronaut Steven Lindsey will be commanding the mission. He will be joined by shuttle pilot Eric Boe, and mission specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Steven Bowen ad Nicole Stott.

According to Space.com, Bowen replaced astronaut Tim Kopra at the last minute after Kobra suffered injuries from a bicycle accident in January. Which probably means all of this will be turned into a sappy Hollywood movie at some point in the future.

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