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Shuttle Discovery Lands In Florida, Ending Long Career

Space shuttle Discovery has returned to Earth for the last time, ending the career of the world's most-traveled spaceship. The shuttle landed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:57 a.m. ET.

On the Florida coast, the end of Discovery's final mission was heralded by a sonic boom as the craft sped toward the runway, prompting cheers from the crowds gathered to watch the launch, according to NASA.

Pilot Eric Boe steered the shuttle through the clouds and into a smooth landing.

And soon after, as NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports, Commander Steve Lindsey said, "And Houston, Discovery for the final time, wheel stop."

From the AP:

The mission added 13 days to Discovery's lifetime total of 365 days in space. Its total mileage is 148 million miles.

Once back at Kennedy Space Center, Discovery will be decommissioned over the next several months and sent to the Smithsonian Institution for display. Shuttles Endeavour and then Atlantis will fly once more each in the next few months. Then they, too, will be retired.

Discovery's final 13-day mission included two spacewalks at the International Space Station, where it brought new equipment and maintenance materials.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.