Staff ‘emotional' about final Discovery mission

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Kennedy Space Center Launch Director Michael Leinbach said the last flight of Space Shuttle Discovery will be "emotional for all of us."

The launch is set for 4:50 p.m. Thursday for the oldest shuttle in the fleet. Discovery is set to land March 7 at Kennedy Space Center, ending 26 years of service.

"Discovery's a great ship," Leinbach said. "This is her 39th mission, and would have quite a few left in her had the program been extended, but it wasn't. Landing day's going to be tough.

"There have been people who have worked exclusively on Discovery for many years. It's going to be even tougher for them to let go."

Mike Moses, launch integration manager, said there are no planned layoffs specific to the Discovery team. However, a series of NASA layoffs is scheduled for April, with more at the end of the shuttle program later this year.

Shuttle Endeavor is set for launch in April, and Atlantis is scheduled to launch in June for the final mission.

"We're still working on the 'what's next' part," Moses said. "It's not the same as what we're doing right now. There's no good or bad about it. We can't keep doing what we're doing with the budgets we have."

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Meanwhile, the crew and support personnel are focusing on the mission at hand, an 11-day trip to the International Space Station to deliver equipment and spare parts.

Candrea Thomas, NASA spokesperson at Kennedy Space Center, said Discovery will be the first shuttle to be retired, but its retirement home is still unknown.

"They're looking at putting the shuttles on display, but no determination has been made," Thomas said.

NASA has offered Discovery to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum free, but delivery is not included. The estimated cost of transporting and housing a decommissioned shuttle is $28.8 million, which is equal to the Air and Space Museum's total annual budget.

Kennedy Space Center and the Johnson Space Center in Houston both want a shuttle to display, as does Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and about 20 other facilities.

© 2011 Space Times News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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