CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Space shuttle Discovery departed the International Space Station on Monday, leaving behind a new storage room, a prototype robot and tons of supplies during its 39th and final space flight.
Discovery pilot Eric Boe gently pulsed the ship’s steering jets to back away from the station at 7 a.m. EST (1200 GMT), completing a nine-day visit. The shuttle is due back at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday.
“We’re going to miss you but most of all, we’re going to miss Discovery,” station commander Scott Kelly told the crew during a farewell ceremony on Sunday.
The shuttle crew’s traditional wake-up music was replaced with a special recording from “Star Trek” actor William Shatner.
“Space ... the final frontier,” Shatner said, over the opening music of the theme song from the 1960s television show. “These have been the voyages of the space shuttle Discovery. Her 30-year mission: to seek out new science, to build new outposts, to bring nations together on the final frontier, to boldly go and do what no spacecraft has done before.”
The final flights of Discovery’s sister ships, Endeavour and Atlantis, are planned for April and June. NASA is retiring the fleet after 30 years of service due to high operating expenses and to develop new spacecraft that can fly beyond the station’s 220-mile-high orbit.
The station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations, has been under construction since 1998.
Discovery delivered a combination storage room-research module to the outpost, along with an outdoor platform to house large spare parts and tons of equipment, supplies and science experiments.
The gear includes a prototype humanoid robot called Robonaut 2, or R2, which has not yet been unpacked. It was built in partnership with General Motors Corp to test how large robots can work safely in close proximity with people.
The crew conducted two spacewalks to help prepare the station for operations after the shuttle fleet’s retirement. They stayed two extra days to give the six live-aboard station crewmembers a hand setting up the new module.
Editing by Eric Beech