BY MATTHEW HIBBARD
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Space shuttle Discovery touched down for the last time Wednesday, wrapping up another chapter of U.S. space travel. NASA’s oldest and most-flown spacecraft ends its career with 148 million miles and 365 days spent in space.
As the shuttles start to roll into retirement, it’s hard for astronauts to keep back the emotions. Current astronauts of STS-133 mission tell Orlando’s WFTV, the Discovery will be hard to leave behind.
“After we land, that will be the time where we’ll reflect. I suspect, seated on the runway, I’ll be sitting in my seat when we do the last switch throw and it’s time for me to get out and I don’t think I’m going to want leave my seat.”
With the Discovery heading for retirement, NASA’s future plans for space exploration are still up in the air. Former NASA Astronaut Bob Springer, who flew on the shuttle in 1989, tells CNN how NASA needs to rediscover its identity before it can move forward.
BOB SPRINGER: “This is a difficult time, you know, and it’s still a little bit incomprehensible to me that we’re shutting down one program before we have another viable program online. Where of course, NASA is struggling to reidentify itself and find out exactly where NASA want to go in the future.”
The future of where the shuttles will go is also in the dark. A widespread assumption is they’ll end up in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum near Virginia, but museum spokesperson Brian Mulen told MSNBC, NASA has yet to make a decision.
And while the shuttle may be best known for its space flights, it also provided paychecks. A writer for The New York Times says the end of the shuttle program is stirring up mixed feelings.
“[This] a bitter pill for the thousands of men and women who have worked on the shuttle fleet over the past three decades, who now face layoffs and the prospect of seeing Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis — the world’s most sophisticated spacecraft — turned into museum displays.
After the next two space shuttles are flown, American astronauts will have to hitch rides to the space station on Russian Soyuz capsules.
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