WASHINGTON, April 12, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The space shuttle helped the United States expand its leadership in space exploration during the program's 30 years of flight and laid the groundwork for the next 30 years of space exploration. The shuttle began setting records with its first launch on April 12, 1981, and continued to set high marks of achievement, endurance and technological advancement throughout its life. Starting with Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, the spacecraft carried hundreds of people to orbit; launched, recovered and repaired satellites; conducted cutting-edge research; and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station (ISS). The final space shuttle mission, STS-135, ended July 21, 2011, when Atlantis rolled to a stop at its home port, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
As the world's first reusable spacecraft, the shuttle pushed the envelope of what was achievable and advanced technology through the efforts of a dedicated workforce throughout NASA's field centers and across the nation. The shuttles now move to their next mission to inspire a new generation of explorers, engineers and scientists as the orbiters go on display for millions of visitors at museums and institutions around the country.Upcoming Shuttle Orbiter Events The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum is planning a festival of activities, "Welcome Discovery," to celebrate the acquisition of space shuttle Discovery. The festival will begin when the shuttle arrives in the Washington, D.C. area on April 17 and will feature four days of space-related activities, performances, appearances by space pioneers, films and displays at Discovery's new home, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. Discovery will be transferred by NASA to the Smithsonian's collection during an outdoor ceremony on April 19. On April 23, shuttle Enterprise, the first orbiter built, will move from the Smithsonian to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York. Later this year, shuttle Endeavour will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, and shuttle Atlantis will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex. The Future of NASA As NASA transfers the shuttle orbiters to museums across the country, the space agency is embarked on an exciting new space exploration journey. Relying on American ingenuity and know-how, NASA is partnering with private industry to provide crew and cargo transportation to the ISS, while developing the most powerful rocket ever built to take the nation farther than ever before into the solar system.