Discovery was the third shuttle built, but ended up making the most flights in the entire shuttle fleet.
This trip will be #39. Kyle Haring is with NASA:
“Discovery has kind of been the workhorse of the agency. It’s kind of been a symbol of recovery, it was the same orbiter for both return-to-flights after the Challenger accident in 1986 and the Columbia accident in 2003.”
Discovery is also famous for carrying into space the Hubble telescope.
This last journey was originally set for last November. The problems that took Discovery off the pad were not on the shuttle itself, but on the orange external fuel tank that is only used once. NASA now says the tiny cracks found on the fuel tank have been fully repaired.
Mission commander Steven Lindsey spoke with reporters before the November launch date. He marveled at the versatility and longevity of the shuttle.
“It’s such a remarkable vehicle, it starts out its life as a rocket ship, it goes into orbit we dock with Space Station, and then we turn it into essentially a re-entry capsule to survive the initial part of re-entry and then in the end it turns itself into an airplane or glider for landing. I’m amazed at the designers of 30 or 40 years ago that came up with this thing and actually put it together and got it to work.”
During the 11-day trip, Discovery will dock with the International Space Station and deliver a spare parts and science experiments. During a spacewalk, shuttle astronauts will attach an extra storage chamber to the space station.