The Long Voyage of Discovery
It has flown to space more than any other craft, and it has carried more crew members to orbit. It was the first spacecraft to retrieve a satellite and bring it back to Earth. It has visited two space stations. It launched a telescope that has seen deeper in space and in time than ever before. And twice it has demonstrated the United States' will to persevere following devastating tragedy, returning America to orbit following the two worst accidents in space history. Although all five vehicles that have comprised NASA's space shuttle fleet are unmatched in achievements, space shuttle Discovery is unique among the extraordinary.

In 38 trips to space, Discovery has spent 351 days in orbit, almost a full year. Discovery has circled Earth 5,628 times, all the while speeding along at 17,400 miles per hour. It has traveled almost 143 million miles. That equals 288 round trips to the moon or about one and a half trips to the sun. Discovery has carried more crew members 246 than any space vehicle. Those have included the first female to ever pilot a spacecraft, the oldest person to fly in space, the first African-American to perform a spacewalk, the first cosmonaut to fly on an American spacecraft and the first sitting member of Congress to fly in space.

It took four years to build Discovery, the third shuttle orbiter built. Named for past sailing ships of exploration, it rolled out of its Palmdale, Calif. assembly plant in October 1993 and was delivered via piggyback airplane flight to NASA' s Kennedy Space Center the next month. Discovery's first launch was Aug. 30, 1984 on mission STS-41D. That flight launched three communications satellites and tested an experimental solar array wing. The mission was commanded by astronaut Henry W. Hartsfield. On its second mission, Discovery became the first spacecraft to retrieve a satellite and bring it home. Through a spectacular series of spacewalks using the free-flying Manned Maneuvering Unit jetpacks, two malfunctioning satellites were retrieved and tucked into Discovery's payload bay for the trip home.

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