With the space shuttle Discovery safely back on the ground after a 15-day mission to supply the International Space Station, only three shuttle missions remain until NASA pulls the plug on the program.
Discovery and its seven-member crew landed at 9:08 a.m. EDT today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A scheduled landing yesterday was postponed by NASA officials because of bad weather over Florida.
NASA has scheduled three more shuttle missions before the fleet is retired. The final mission remains slated for September though a recent report from NASA's Office of the Inspector General suggested delays could prolong the shuttle program until mid-2011.
The next mission is set to begin on May 14 with the launch of Atlantis. Weather permitting, the spacecraft will be rolled out to its launch pad later today, according to NASA. The Atlantis mission is slated to include the delivery of a Russian module to the space station.
For today, however, NASA officials focused on the mission just completed.
Discovery carried its crew for more than 6 million miles during more than two weeks aloft.
"Wrapping up [Mission] 131 here from Discovery -- a really great mission," said Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses, in a statement today. "A lot of good science and a lot of good stuff delivered up to the station. Couldn't be more proud of the teams."
The shuttle, which delivered about 17 thousand pounds of supplies and equipment to the space station, undocked from the orbiter on Saturday morning.
During Discovery's time at the station, the NASA astronauts completed three spacewalks. Their main task was to replace an ammonia tank, part of the station's cooling system.
In light of the shuttle fleet's upcoming retirement, various missions over the past year have been focused on stocking the space station up with new equipment, spare parts and supplies.
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 email@example.com.