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Tuesday , March 8 , 2011
 
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Shuttle leaves space station for last time

Cape Canaveral (Florida), March 7 (AP): Discovery, the world’s most travelled spaceship, left the International Space Station today for the last time, getting a dramatic send-off by the dozen orbiting astronauts as well as Star Trek’s original Captain Kirk.

Station skipper Scott Kelly rang his ship’s bell in true naval tradition, as the shuttle backed away on the final leg of its final journey. “Discovery departing,” he called out.

Discovery will be back on Earth on Wednesday. It’s being retired after touchdown and sent to the Smithsonian Institution for display. Nasa’s two other shuttles will join Discovery in retirement, following their coming missions. Discovery’s astronauts got a special greeting in advance of their space station departure.

Actor William Shatner, who played Captain James Kirk on the original Star Trek TV series, paid tribute to Discovery’s voyages over the decades. “Space, the final frontier,” Shatner said in a prerecorded message. “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.”

Shatner’s words were followed by Monday morning's wake-up music, Theme from Star Trek. It was the runner-up in a pick-the-wake-up-music contest sponsored by Nasa. The No. 1 vote-getter will be beamed up Tuesday.Discovery will have racked up nearly 240 millionkm by trip’s end, accumulated over 39 missions and nearly 27 years, and spent 365 days total in space. It flew to the space station 13 times.

Immediately after undocking high above the Pacific, Discovery performed a victory lap around the orbiting outpost, where it spent the past nine days. The two crews beamed down pictures of each other’s vessel, with the blue cloud-specked planet 355km below as the backdrop.

Close-up shots showed most, if not all, of the individual compartments of the bigger-than-ever station. Live Nasa TV footage showed Discovery as it flew over the Atlantic and the Sahara, and in a matter of a few minutes, over the Mediterranean and northern Italy.

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