Space Shuttle Discovery comes home — and to a museum near you

Space shuttle Discovery’s last flight was yesterday, ending an era in American space flight. The vehicle’s retirement is paving the way for new developments in the space frontier, however, and with the fleet now out of commission, NASA can concentrate on International Space Station missions and development of the next generation of American space vehicles.

As for the current fleet, select spacecraft will be retired to museums around the planet, including the Smithsonian in Washington DC and any number of air and space museums scattered across the nation. According to yesterday morning’s Morning Edition on NPR, there is actually a bit of competition for the available shuttles, with several museums building massive new facilities and plans before even being promised the equipment.

Either way, the pollination of the craft throughout the nation means that tourists will soon have a new site to behold on their air and space vacations. We’re already looking forward to the new round of spacecraft designs.

Watch the shuttle launch!

Space Shuttle Discovery will leave the Earth behind on February 12, 2009. If you want to be there to witness it, pick some tickets for the launch. Guests will be able to watch the commencement of mission STS-119 from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which is as close as you can get.

This mission will take the shuttle from Florida (and you, if you’re at the visitor complex) to the International Space Station, where it will drop off a set of large solar arrays, which will provide additional power for up to six crew members this spring, instead of the usual three. Making this mission unique, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata will be on board. Upon arrival at the International Space Station, he’ll be the first crew member from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Back at Kennedy, there will be plenty to do before and after the launch. Video presentations, astronaut appearances and launch briefings will help you make sense of what happens out on the pad. And at $38 for adults ($28 for kids ages three to 11), this is a fantastic deal even in today’s tough economy.

Learn more about watching a launch >>