Space Shuttle Discovery lands for final time

The Space Shuttle Discovery successfully landed Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:57 AM EST (16:57 UTC) for what is scheduled to be the final time in its operational career.

Upon landing, the shuttle and its six-person crew wrapped up the STS-133 mission, the Discovery’s 39th and final flight into space. STS-133 launched on February 24, after several launch delays since last November due to numerous technical issues. During the twelve-day mission, the crew transported supplies and parts to the International Space Station (ISS) including Robonaut2, the first dexterous humanoid robot in space, the Permanent Multipurpose Module, and ExPRESS Logistics Carrier-4.

During the mission, two spacewalks were performed by astronauts Stephen Bowen and Alvin Drew to install parts and perform maintenance on the exterior of the orbiting laboratory.

The Space Shuttle Discovery landed for the final time Wednesday, wrapping up a twelve-day mission and a 39-mission career. Image: NASA.

Six astronauts and cosmonauts, members of the Expedition 26 crew, remain aboard the ISS to carry out a long-duration mission aboard the outpost.

STS-133 is Discovery’s 39th and final mission into space, the 35th shuttle mission to the ISS, and the 133rd flight in the entire shuttle program. Discovery has docked with two different space stations, Mir and the ISS, and was the first shuttle to fly after both the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Discovery made its maiden flight on STS-41-D in 1984, having since become the most experienced and oldest surviving space shuttle, and delivering payloads to orbit such as the Hubble Space Telescope and becoming the first shuttle to fly a Russian cosmonaut into space.

Discovery, having completed its final flight, has been offered by NASA to the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., to display to the public. The museum, however, is in the process of determining how to obtain the funds necessary to transfer the shuttle. A decision regarding this possibility is expected to be made in April.

A NASA commentator describes Wednesday’s landing as “the end of a historic journey. To a ship that has led the way, time and time again, we bid farewell to Discovery.”

Two remaining shuttle flights are scheduled later this year, STS-134 and STS-135, before the retirement of the space shuttle fleet.



Scientists conclude that the universe may expand forever

A study of the amount of dark matter in the universe suggests that the universe itself may continue to expand indefinitely. The projected future does have its drawbacks, however; researchers say that the universe will likely then become a cold, dead cosmic wasteland.

Galaxy cluster Abell 1689 Image: NASA/ESA.

The study was conducted by an international team of researchers led by Professor Eric Jullo at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The researches used data from the the Hubble Space Telescope showing the way that light was distorted, known as a gravitational lens, from a large galactic cluster known as Abell 1689 to estimate the amount of dark energy to be about three quarters of the universe.

Dark energy is a completely invisible force that is constantly acting upon the universe. Its existence is known only because of its effects on the expansion of the universe.

Researchers predict that when the point comes when it is a cold, dead expanse, the temperature will approach what scientists call ‘absolute zero’.

Jullo says that scientists can now say, for the first time, that the universe “will continue to accelerate and the universe will expand forever”.

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