24 April 1990, 12:33:51 UTC: Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-31) lifted off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Florida, on a mission to place the Hubble Space Telescope in Earth Orbit.
The STS-31 flight crew were Loren J. Shriver, Commander; Charles F. Bolden, Jr., Pilot; Steven A. Hawley, Mission Specialist; Kathryn D. Sullivan, Mission Specialist; Bruce McCandless II, Mission Specialist.
The Hubble Space Telescope is named after Edwin Hubble, an early 20th century astronomer who discovered galaxies beyond our own Milky Way galaxy. It is an optical Ritchey–Chrétien telescope (an improved Cassegrain reflector). Star light enters the telescope and is collected by a large 7 foot, 10.5 inch (2.400 meter) diameter hyperbolic mirror at the back end. The light is reflected forward to a smaller hyperbolic mirror, which focuses the light and projects it back through an opening in the main reflector. The light is then gathered by the electronic sensors of the space telescope. These mirrors are among the most precise objects ever made, having been polished to an accuracy of 10 nanometers.
The Hubble Space Telescope is 43.5 feet (13.259 meters long. The light tube has a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters) and the aft equipment section is 14 feet (4.267 meters) in diameter. The spacecraft weighs 27,000 pounds (12,247 kilograms).
The HST orbits the Earth every 97 minutes at an altitude of 320 nautical miles (593 kilometers). The telescope was last serviced in 2009. Originally designed to operate for 15 years, the HST is now in its 26th.
¹ Colonel Bolden reached the rank of Major General, United States Marine Corps, before retiring in 2003. He was served as Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration, 17 July 2009–20 January 2017.
² Lieutenant Commander Sullivan left NASA in 1993, and retired from the U.S. Navy with the rank of Captain, in 2006. She served as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere/Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 28 February 2013–20 January 2017.
30 March 1982: At 9:04:46 a.m. Mountain Standard Time (16:04:46 UTC), Space Shuttle Columbia (OV-102) completed its third space flight (STS-3) by landing at White Sands Space Harbor, the auxiliary space shuttle landing area at the White Sands Test Facility, west of Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Columbia rolled out 13,732 feet (4,185.5 meters), coming to a complete stop after 83 seconds. The duration of the flight was 192 hours, 4 minutes, 46 seconds.
This was the only time that a space shuttle landed at White Sands.
During STS-116 (9–22 December 2006) WSSH was activated due to adverse weather conditions at both Kennedy and Edwards. However, Discovery (OV-103) was able to land at the Kennedy SLF.
WSSH was also used as a training facility for shuttle pilots to practice approaches while flying NASA’s Grumman C-11A Shuttle Training Aircraft (a modified Gulfstream II). One of these STAs, NASA 946 (N946NA), is in the collection of the Texas Air & Space Museum, Amarillo, Texas.
Located at an elevation of 3,913 feet (1,193 meters) above Sea Level near the northwest edge of a very large dry lakebed of gypsum sand, WSSH has two 15,000 foot (4,572 meters) runways, Runway 23/05 and Runway 17/35, each with 10,000 foot (3,048 meters) overuns at either end. A third runway, Runway 2/20, has a length of 19,800 feet (6,035 meters), with no overruns.
Runway 17/35 replicates the runway at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida, and 23/05 matches the dry lake runway at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
The runways are constructed of compacted natural gypsum with markings of asphalt. Lighting for night operations is provided by portable xenon light trailers positioned 1,000 feet (305 meters) into the overruns. Pads for eight helicopters are located close to the runway intersection. There is a control tower and modern visual and electronic landing aids.
Crash/Rescue personnel and equipment was provided by Hollomon Air Force Base.
Columbia was returned to Cape Canaveral 6 April 1982 aboard NASA 905, one of two Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
24 February 2011, 21:53:24 UTC: Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) is launched on its final mission, STS-133. The mission was to dock the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module at the International Space Station, as well as to transport other sensors, materials and supplies. The launch had been “scrubbed” five times since 29 October 2010.
Mission STS-133 was commanded by Colonel Steven Wayne Lindsey, United States Air Force. This was Colonel Lindsey’s fifth space shuttle flight. The shuttle pilot was Colonel Eric Allen Boe, U.S. Air Force. There were four Mission Specialists aboard: Nicole Marie Passonno Stott, a structural engineer; Colonel Benjamin Alvin Drew, U.S. Air Force; Michael Reed Barratt, M.D., a NASA Aviation Medical Examiner (“flight surgeon”); and Captain Stephen Gerard Bowen, U.S. Navy.
Captain Bowen, a nuclear attack submarine officer, had replaced Mission Specialist Colonel Timothy Lennart Kopra, U.S. Army, who was injured in a bicycle accident. Bowen is the only NASA astronaut to have flown two consecutive missions. (STS-132 and STS-133)
Discovery docked at the International Space Station at 19:14 UTC, 26 February. Equipment and supplies were transferred.
Leonardo, which had previously been docked at the space station from March 2001 until April 2010, when it was returned to Earth to be modified and upgraded, was installed on the ISS on 1 March. Discovery remained docked at ISS for 8 days, 16 hours, 46 minutes.
The space shuttle returned to Earth on 9 March, landing at the Kennedy Shuttle Landing Facility at 16:58:14 UTC. The total duration of the mission was 12 days, 19 hours, 4 minutes, 50 seconds.
Discovery is the space shuttle fleet leader, having made 39 orbital flights, more than any other shuttle. It has spent 365 days, 22 hours, 39 minutes, 33 seconds in space flight, traveling 148,221,675 miles (238,539,663 kilometers).
On 19 April 2012, Discovery was placed on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.