The space shuttle Discovery undocked from the International Space Station Monday as the oldest shuttle in the U.S. space agency’s fleet began its final journey home.
Discovery undocked from the ISS at 1337 GMT after spending nearly eight days there. The mission delivered the last major U.S. contribution to the ISS -- an extra room -- along with supplies and equipment, including a human-like robot, known as Robonaut 2 (R2), the first such robot ever sent to space.
After undocking, Discovery flew around the ISS to snap photos of the orbiting laboratory to document what it looks like now that the new components have been installed. The crew was also to examine the shuttle’s heat shield for any damage that could pose a danger when re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
ISS Commander Scott Kelly told the six-member Discovery crew that they had had a successful visit, and that the shuttle would be missed.
“Discovery been a great ship and has really supported ISS more than any other shuttle and we wish her fair winds and following seas,” he said before the two crafts separated.
The day began with wake-up music of the Star Trek theme with a special new voice-over recorded by actor William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk, especially for the Discovery.
“Space, the final frontier,” he said in place of the original words from the television show.
“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.”
The oldest vehicle in the active shuttle fleet, Discovery blasted off for the first time in 1984 and will have spent a full year in orbit.
The craft is set to land at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida Wednesday morning, ending its 13-day mission and decades-long career. The Discovery is the first of the shuttle fleet to be retired as NASA ends the programme later this year. Just two more flights, of the shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis, are scheduled.