Space Shuttle Discovery On Its Way to Decommission

Jeanne Sager

Flickr photo by Matthew Simantov
The space shuttle Discovery blasted into space early this morning, bound for the International Space Station.

But the astronauts on the orbiter we've been hearing about since the mid-eighties had better enjoy their 13 days in space.

They won't get many more -- at least not on Discovery.

While the Obama administration is talking about funnelling millions of dollars into NASA to better fund the space agency, one of the program's mainstays is going away.

Discovery will launch again in September for a delivery to the space station, then it will be decommissioned.

Commissioned in 1979, the shuttle took its first flight in 1984 and has completed more successful missions than any orbiter in NASA's fleet. But its fate -- beyond September -- is uncertain. New Yorkers hope it will be headed to their city to become a museum.

Other orbiters -- although not as old as Discovery -- are similarly slated to finish out their missions to the space station this year and end their careers.

The International Space Station still fascinates, but the launch at 6:21 this morning was largely unheralded in the weeks leading up to it. Compare that to the 1984 launch, when Discovery was the talk of, well, everything.

Does the decommissioning of Discovery and its fellow orbiters feel like a farewell to a days-gone-by era?

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