From the Orlando Sentinel......
CAPE CANAVERAL — Pilot Eric Boe brought space shuttle Discovery in for a graceful landing at Kennedy Space Center just before noon today, ending a 13-day mission as well as the orbiter's 27-year career. It was also the first step in the end of the U.S. space shuttle program.
"The end of a historic journey. To a ship that has led the way, time and time again, we bid farewell to Discovery," said NASA commentator Charles Hobaugh as the orbiter rolled down the runway.
Discovery's return leaves just two more shuttle launches — Endeavour in April, and Atlantis in June — before the program is retired. With it will go an estimated 7,000 jobs at KSC.
And for the first time in 50 years, NASA is uncertain what is next for the U.S. space flight program. Congress wants the agency to build a new heavy-lift rocket, but the agency says it can't do it with the funding Congress has provided in the time by the Dec. 31, 2016 deadline it's been given.
After Atlantis' last flight, astronauts will be taken to the space station aboard Russian Soyuz rockets, while cargo will ride aboard a new generation of commercial rockets.
As soon as Discovery rolled to a halt, NASA's oldest and most-traveled orbiter — it began service in 1984 —- was back in the hands of Stephanie Stilson and her team. They will spend weeks inspecting the spaceship, then several months decomissioning it to make what one historian called "the champion of the fleet" into a museum piece.
Most likely, Discovery will wind up in the Smithsonian Institution's National Air & Space Museum in Washington. NASA has offered Discovery to that museum, and the Smithsonian wants it but has yet to figure out how to pay the $28.8 million cost of decommissioning and delivery. A final decision will be announced in mid-April.
Stilson, who is NASA flow director for Discovery, was prepared for an emotional moment for her and her team. Today's landing ended a storied career of 39 missions that ferried into space satellites, space probes, experiments and secret Defense Department items, not to mention astronauts and sections and supplies for the International Space Station.
Discovery has also carried two U.S. senators into space, launched the Hubble Space Telescope and returned the shuttle program to flight after both the Challenger and Columbia disasters of 1986 and 2003.
"I did actually shed some tears on launch day. I was wondering if that would happen, because I don't do that very often. I think it'll be the same for landing," Stilson said earlier.
Though she's worked on all the shuttles, Discovery is where Stilson's heart has been since she first began working on it in 2000.
"Though I'll be very happy to see the conclusion of the mission, and to show that we were successful in what we set out to accomplish," she said, "it's also going to be the last time we see Discovery land on the runway. So that's a little bittersweet to me."
By all accounts, Discovery's latest mission has been a complete success. Boe, Commander Steve Lindsey, and four other crew members took the craft into orbit Feb. 24. They delivered and installed a permanent multipurpose module called Leonardo — a new, 2,472-cubic-foot room full of equipment and supplies — as well as a carrier full of supplies.
The equipment included a humanoid-like robot called Robonaut 2, which could one day perform maintenance and science at the space station.
Mission specialists Steve Bowen and Al Drew conducted two spacewalks to install, change and fix equipment outside the station. Mission specialists Nicole Stott and Mike Barratt round out the crew.
So far, aside from occasional tears, NASA's shuttle mission teams have been too busy to express much emotion about the end of the program.
"We all just have to remain positive," Stilson said. "We're going through change. Change isn't always a bad thing.