National Geographic

Discovery’s Last Ride

By Susan Poultonfor Breaking Orbit

Space Shuttle Discovery rolled out to the launch pad for the final time tonight, with first motion out of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) coming 30 minutes early at 7:23pm ET, beneath a stunning sunset. Hundreds of employees gathered to watch the event and cheer on Discovery as they watched the last of two launches get underway. Loud roars and applause could be heard as the shuttle passed the grandstands and cars poured into the area as everyone wanted to catch a glimpse.


—Image Credit: Susan Poulton


This was the first roll out I’ve attended and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the shuttle moved more quickly than I expected, with top speeds tonight of 0.8 miles per hour on her 3.5 mile, six to seven hour trip over to the launch pad.


—Image Credit: Susan Poulton


After passing the crowds brightly lit by the xenon lights, the shuttle eventually moved out of range and slipped quietly into the darkness, moving steadily toward her resting place on launch pad 39A to await her final triumphant flight now scheduled for November 1, 2010. To see a panoramic image of tonight’s roll out, visit


—Image Credit: Susan Poulton


—Susan Poulton works for National Geographic Digital Media and is a self-proclaimed space geek. Since graduating from Space Camp in 1987, she’s been fascinated by all things space and can’t resist sharing this passion with others. A veteran of 15 launches (and over 41 launch attempts), she has attempted to see every space shuttle launch since STS-114 in 2005.