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Space Shuttle Discovery launched for the first time on this day 35 years ago

Space Shuttle Discovery (elliottwolf/WikiCommons)

Space Shuttle Discovery launched for the first time on Aug. 30, 1984 and would go on to become the space shuttle to fly the most missions in its more than 26-year career.

The first mission, STS-41-D, took off from Kennedy Space Center with six crew members on a seven-day mission that landed at Edwards Air Force Base on Sept. 5. It was the 12th shuttle mission overall, and the first of 39 for Discovery.

The orbiter was the third to launch for NASA following Space Shuttle Columbia and Challenger. It’s the middle child between those two and newer Space Shuttle Atlantis and Endeavour.

It was also NASA’s workhorse, and its go-to shuttle after both of the space shuttle tragedies. It flew nearly 150 million miles carrying 252 crew members. It spent just over 1 year total in space: 365 days, 22 hours, 39 minutes and 33 seconds.

After the tragedy of Space Shuttle Challenger’s explosion in 1986, it took more than 2 1/2 years before NASA returned to space.

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Space Shuttle Discovery took on that role just before noon on Thursday, Sept. 29, 1988, launching from Kennedy Space Center on STS-26, the 26th mission of the space shuttle program and 7th mission for Discovery.

The crew of Commander Frederick H. Hauck, pilot Richard Covey and specialists John Lounge, David Hilmers and George “Pinky” Nelson made the five-person crew to the four-day mission. It was the first time a shuttle crew had been made up of veteran astronauts, all having made two or three previous spaceflights.

The crew successfully deployed a satellite and performed several experiments before returning to Earth.

Discovery touched down at Edwards Air Force Base at 12:37 p.m.

The shuttle program would fly 87 more missions until the STS-107 disaster when Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on its return to Earth in 2003. Discovery would become the “Return to Flight” orbiter again in 2005 as the program finished up 6 more years of missions for a total of 135 flights.

Discovery was the first of the three remaining orbiters to retire having last touched down March 9, 2011 on STS-133.

Discovery is now at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington, D.C.

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