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The space shuttle Discovery is seen framed by a window aboard the International Space Station after the undocking of the two spacecraft in this photo provided by NASA and taken March 7, 2011. (NASA/Reuters/NASA/Reuters)
The space shuttle Discovery is seen framed by a window aboard the International Space Station after the undocking of the two spacecraft in this photo provided by NASA and taken March 7, 2011. (NASA/Reuters/NASA/Reuters)

Space

Its work done, Discovery's final stop will be a museum Add to ...

Its 39 flights were meticulously scrutinized. Its missions - amounting to one full year spent in space - painstakingly planned.

So it's a curious thing that as the space shuttle Discovery successfully landed after its last voyage, marking the beginning the end of the U.S. shuttle program, its final resting place is still unknown.

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Twenty-one museums are vying for the retired craft, which will eventually be put on public display.

NASA will announce Discovery's final destination on April 12, the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch.

The anniversary falls during a time of uncertainty for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's own future.

The United States is ending its costly shuttle program, in part, to help finance work on new spaceships that can travel to the moon, asteroids and other destinations beyond the International Space Station's orbit.

Congress, however, has not yet allocated the money for the new program.

With Endeavour and Atlantis, Discovery's sister ships, set to fly their final missions in the coming months, the future of the space program is in limbo amid a heated budget debate.

After Atlantis's final mission in June, it will be several years at least before any new U.S. spacecraft will blast off. In the interim, American astronauts will have rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to transport them, at a cost of $55-million a seat.

NASA also hopes U.S. companies will work toward developing "space taxis" so is astronauts can purchase flights domestically.

The prospect of the storied shuttle winding up in a museum highlighted a sense of bitterness among some that the U.S. shuttle programi s coming to an end, even as the 27-year-old Discovery pulled off its final touchdown in Florida Wednesday

Steven Lindsey, Discovery's commander, circled the shuttle through clear skies over the Kennedy Space Center, then glided it toward the runway a short distance from where it blasted off for its final flight on Feb. 24.

"Houston, Discovery. For the final time, wheels stop," Commander Lindsey said to Mission Control in Houston as the shuttle came to a complete stop.

"Great job by you and your crew," astronaut Charlie Hobaugh from Mission Control replied.

"That was an awesome mission that you all had. You were able to take Discovery up to a full 365 days of actual time on orbit. I think that you'd call that a fleet leader, and a leader of any manned vehicle for time in orbit. So, job well done," Mr. Hobaugh said.

Discovery's final mission involved delivering a storage room and research lab to the space station and a platform to house spare parts. It transported supplies and science gear, including a prototype humanoid robot.

Astronauts made two space walks over the course of the 13-day mission, where they helped prepare the station for operation after Discovery's retirement.

Meanwhile, institutions including the visitor center at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan have stepped up lobbying efforts to win rights to display the Discovery, using online petitions and high-priced PR campaigns to bolster their chances.

The Discovery will be strapped to the back of a 747 and flown to its ultimate destination.

That museum will be required to pay the $28.8-million it will cost to prepare and transport the space shuttle to its final home.

 

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