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Shuttle Discovery in final landing

Discovery has ended its career as the world's most flown spaceship, returning from orbit for the last time and taking off in a new direction as a museum piece.

After a flawless trip to the International Space Station, Nasa's oldest shuttle swooped through a few wispy clouds on its way to its final touchdown.

"To the ship that has led the way time and time again, we say, 'Farewell Discovery'," declared Mission Control commentator Josh Byerly.

Florida's spaceport was packed with shuttle programme workers, journalists and even some schoolchildren eager to see history in the making.

The six astronauts on board went through their landing checklists with the bittersweet realisation that no-one would ever ride Discovery again.

They said during their 13-day space station delivery mission that they expected that to hit them hard when the shuttle came to a stop on the runway.

At three minutes before noon Eastern Time, Discovery landed and ceased being a reusable rocketship.

"For the final time: wheels stop," Discovery's commander Steven Lindsey called out when the shuttle rolled to a stop. He was the last member of the crew to climb out of the craft.

Even after shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis make their final voyages in the coming months, Discovery will still hold the all-time record with 39 missions, 148 million miles, 5,830 orbits of Earth, and 365 days spent in space. All that was achieved in under 27 years.

Discovery now leads the way to retirement as Nasa winds down the 30-year shuttle programme in favour of interplanetary travel.

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From Belfast Telegraph