The Discovery space shuttle was the third space rated orbiter in the NASA fleet after Columbia and Challenger. Before its retirement earlier this year, it was the shuttle fleets leader at 39 missions.
Discovery was named after three very historic ships in history. Henry Hudson’s Discovery was used in the 1609 founding of Jamestown and it is also famous for Hudson’s 1610-1611 search for the Northwest Passage. The HMS Discovery which was the ship that carried Captain George Nares on the British expedition to the North Pole in 1875-1876. Finally, the RRS Discovery was the main ship of the “Discovery Expedition” lead by Scott and Shackelton to Antarctica.
Discovery (OV-103) was originally delivered to Kennedy Space Center for final verification in November 1983. Having benefited from lessons learned in the construction and testing of Enterprise, Columbia and Challenger, at rollout, its weight was some 6,870 pounds less than Columbia. Its first launch was August 30, 1984 with STS-41-D, a mission planned to deploy three communications satellites. Its final touchdown at Kennedy Space Center was on March 9, 2011 at 10:57 am CST at the end of STS-133.
During its tenure as the oldest remaining shuttle in the fleet, it was best known for its deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) on STS-31, in April of 1990. Discovery also ferried the second and third HST servicing missions to space.
Discovery is know for having been chosen as the Return to Flight orbiter twice. The first time in 1988,more then two years after the Challenger accident, with STS-26 and a launch of another TDRS satellite. Then a second time in 2005, more than 2 years after the Columbia disaster, with STS-114 and testing of the new procedures to repair orbiters while in flight.
Discovery is currently undergoing an extensive decommissioning program that will prepare it for museum viewing. Sometime in 2012, Discovery will be placed for permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.