10 Mar 2011

Veteran space shuttle touches down for last time

10:30 am on 10 March 2011

The oldest of America's space shuttles, Discovery, has made its final flight after a 27-year career.

The orbiter arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday after a 12-day mission to the International Space Station.

After covering more distance and lasting longer than any of the remaining three United States shuttles, it's now headed for a museum.

"This legend has spent 365 days in space," NASA mission control in Houston said, noting that over the course of its 39 missions Discovery has logged almost 241 million kilometres.

Its arrival back on Earth marks the beginning of the end for the three-decade old US shuttle programme, which will formally end after Endeavour and Atlantis take their final spaceflights in the coming months.

After that, the sole method of transport to and from the space station will be via Russia's Soyuz space capsules, which can carry three people at a time.