Space shuttle Discovery takes a few victory laps

By Seth Borenstein

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 17 2012 1:40 p.m. MDT

Discovery's list of achievements include delivering the Hubble Space Telescope to orbit, carrying the first Russian cosmonaut to launch on a U.S. spaceship, performing the first rendezvous with the Russian space station Mir with the first female shuttle pilot in the cockpit, returning Mercury astronaut John Glenn to orbit and resuming shuttle flights after the Challenger and Columbia accidents.

At the Smithsonian annex, Discovery will take the place of the shuttle prototype Enterprise. The Enterprise will go to New York City. Endeavour will head to Los Angeles this fall. Atlantis will remain at Kennedy.

With the shuttles grounded, private U.S. companies hope to pick up the slack, beginning with space station cargo and then, hopefully, astronauts. The first commercial cargo run, by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is set to take place in a few weeks.

For at least the next three to five years — until commercial passenger craft are available in the United States — NASA astronauts will have to hitch rides aboard Russian Soyuz capsules to get to the International Space Station.

Smithsonian space shuttle curator Valerie Neal lobbied for years to get the shuttle with the most history. She knew Discovery had logged the highest miles, completed every type of mission and had the distinction of being the first flown by a black commander and the first flown by a female pilot.

"It just has such a rich history," Neal said. "It's the champion of the shuttle fleet."

Borenstein reported from Washington. AP Aerospace Writer Marcia Dunn in Cape Canaveral, Fla., contributed to this report.

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov