Discovery blasts off on final NASA space mission

Space shuttle logs 39th trip as it carries astronauts on 11-day mission

NASA's space shuttle Discovery lifted off on its 39th and final mission into space from Kennedy Space Center late this afternoon.

Discovery, which has had more space flights than any other shuttle, is carrying six astronauts, a humanoid robot called Robonaut 2, spare parts for the International Space Station and several scientific experiments.

It lifted off on schedule at 4:50 p.m. Eastern.

The shuttle crew is off on an 11-day mission, which will feature two spacewalks and the delivery of the first humanoid robot in space.

As retirement looms for NASA's space shuttle fleet, this is Discovery's last trip aloft.

The shuttle, which first arrived at NASA in November 1983 and first launched into space in August 1984, has had a long and interesting history with the space agency.

Discovery was the shuttle that returned the United States to space flight after both the shuttles Challenger and Columbia accidents. It also was the shuttle that carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit, and it has since gone aloft twice so astronauts could maintain the telescope.

With more than 300 days in space already, Discovery has made more than 5,000 trips around the Earth, logging more than 150 million miles, and carried more than 180 astronauts.

It's also the first space shuttle to have a female pilot, Eilleen Collins.

Discovery was initially scheduled to lift off on its final mission last fall but was delayed because of gas leaks found in the shuttle's external fuel tanks.

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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