|Discovery is scheduled for launch with a crew of six astronauts on a mission to International Space Station [Reuters]
At the ripe old age of 27, it’s time to retire.
The space shuttle Discovery will blast off for the final time at 21:50 GMT on Thursday, marking the beginning of the end of the US space shuttle programme.
Discovery will be the first of the remaining three shuttles to be put out to pasture, with the other following later in the year.
Led by commander Steven Lindsey, Discovery’s last mission will supply various new equipment to the International Space Station.
The delivery will include the station’s first humanoid robots as well as the Express Logistic Carrier, an external platform for large equipment.
After the termination of the US programme, astronauts will have to rely on the Russian Soyuz Space Capsule for transport to and from the Space Station.
After already clocking up 352 days in space, Discovery is the oldest and most travelled space craft still in service.
Conditions for its final take off could hardly be better, with blue skies and light winds forecast.
There were originally six shuttles in the fleet, but one, Enterprise, never flew into space.
Enterprise was used only for test flights in the atmosphere, and is already on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, at the display facility just outside Washington, the US capital.
Flights for two of the remaining five shuttles ended in disaster; Challenger exploded shortly after take off in 1986, and Columbia disintegrated on its way back to earth in 2003.
Discovery will retire after circling the earth more than 5,600 times. Final flights for the other two shuttles in the fleet are scheduled in the coming months.