Space shuttle overview: Discovery

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On February 21, 1997, the Space Shuttle Discovery touches down in darkness on Runway 15 of the KSC Shuttle Landing Facility, bringing to a close the 10-day STS-82 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

Photo by NASA

On February 21, 1997, the Space Shuttle Discovery touches down in darkness on Runway 15 of the KSC Shuttle Landing Facility, bringing to a close the 10-day STS-82 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

Discovery (OV-103) was NASA's third space shuttle orbiter to join the fleet, arriving for the first time at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in November 1983.

After checkout and processing, it was launched on Aug. 30, 1984, for its first mission, 41-D, to deploy three communications satellites.

Since that inaugural flight, Discovery has completed more than 30 successful missions, surpassing the number of flights made by any other orbiter in NASA's fleet. Just like all of the orbiters, it has undergone some major modifications over the years. The most recent began in 2002 and was the first carried out at Kennedy. It provided 99 upgrades and 88 special tests, including new changes to make it safer for flight.

Discovery has the distinction of being chosen as the Return to Flight orbiter twice. The first was for STS-26 in 1988, and the second when it carried the STS-114 crew on NASA's Return to Flight mission to the International Space Station in July 2005.

The choice of the name "Discovery" carried on a tradition drawn from some historic, Earth-bound exploring ships of the past. One of these sailing forerunners was the vessel used in the early 1600s by Henry Hudson to explore Hudson Bay and search for a northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Another such ship was used by British explorer James Cook in the 1770s during his voyages in the South Pacific, leading to the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. In addition, two British Royal Geographical Society ships have carried the name "Discovery" as they sailed on expeditions to the North Pole and the Antarctic.

Destined for exploring the heavens instead of the seas, it was only fitting that NASA's Discovery carried the Hubble Space Telescope into space during mission STS-31 in April 1990, and provided both the second and third Hubble servicing missions (STS-82 in February 1997 and STS-103 in December 1999).

During its many successful trips to space, Discovery has carried satellites aloft, ferried modules and crew to the International Space Station, and provided the setting for countless scientific experiments.

Construction Milestones

January 29, 1979 Contract Award

August 27, 1979 Start long lead fabrication of Crew Module

June 20, 1980 Start fabrication lower fuselage

November 10, 1980 Start structural assembly of aft-fuselage

December 8, 1980 Start initial system installation aft fuselage

March 2, 1981 Start fabrication/assembly of payload bay doors

October 26, 1981 Start initial system installation, crew module, Downey

January 4, 1982 Start initial system installation upper forward fuselage

March 16, 1982 Midfuselage on dock, Palmdale

March 30, 1982 Elevons on dock, Palmdale

April 30, 1982 Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman

April 30, 1982 Lower forward fuselage on dock, Palmdale

July 16, 1982 Upper forward fuselage on dock, Palmdale

August 5, 1982 Vertical stabilizer on dock, Palmdale

September 3, 1982 Start of Final Assembly

October 15, 1982 Body flap on dock, Palmdale

January 11, 1983 Aft fuselage on dock, Palmdale

February 25, 1983 Complete final assembly and closeout installation, Palmdale

February 28, 1983 Start initial subsystems test, power-on, Palmdale

May 13, 1983 Complete initial subsystems testing

July 26, 1983 Complete subsystems testing

August 12, 1983 Completed Final Acceptance

October 16, 1983 Rollout from Palmdale

November 5, 1983 Overland transport from Palmdale to Edwards

November 9, 1983 Delivery to Kennedy Space Center

June 2, 1984 Flight Readiness Firing

August 30, 1984 First Flight (41-D)

Upgrades and Features

Discovery 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.

Beginning in the fall of 1995, the orbiter underwent a nine-month Orbiter Maintenance Down Period (OMDP) in Palmdale California. The vehicle was outfitted with a 5th set of cryogenic tanks and an external airlock to support missions to the International Space Station. It returned to the Kennedy Space Center, riding piggy-back on a modified Boeing 747, in June 1996.

Following STS-105, Discovery became the first of the orbiter fleet to undergo Orbiter Major Modification (OMM) period at the Kennedy Space Center. Work began in September 2002, and along with the scheduled upgrades, additional safety modifications were added as part of the preparations for Return to Flight.

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