STS-133 Discovery

Space shuttle Discovery and ISS over Toronto skyline, Centre Island, Toronto Islands

Swan Song

For the final time ever, space shuttle Discovery appears with the International Space Station over the Toronto skyline.  Undocked from the ISS the previous day, Discovery and the ISS form distinct trails as the shuttle’s deorbit preparations increase their separation distance. This is a series of ‘stacked’ images, 5-second exposures laid over top of each […]

Space shuttle Discovery and ISS over pier, Centre Island, Toronto Islands

Future Perfect

Capping a perfect mission and tracking southward, space shuttle Discovery (left) and the International Space Station (right) disappear into orbital sunset over the Centre Island pier, 16 hours before Discovery’s final landing at Kennedy Space Centre.

STS-133 Xenon Lights, LC-39A, Kennedy Space Centre

Discovery Xenon

High-powered Xenon lights illuminate space shuttle Discovery on the launch pad at LC-39A after rollback of the Rotating Service Structure, for STS-133’s first launch attempt in November of 2010.

STS-133 RSS Rollback (timelapse)

The Rotating Service Structure is rolled back from space shuttle Discovery for the final time, revealing the veteran orbiter over the course of 45 minutes for launch the next day (click the play button to view the timelapse).

Launch of STS-133 (audio)

[Audio clip: view full post to listen] Space shuttle Discovery roars into orbit, the crackling thunder of her twin Solid Rocket Boosters threatening to overwhelm the microphone. Note:  if the audio player doesn’t appear, click the title (Launch of STS-133) to view the actual post.

Launch Panorama of Discovery STS-133, Astronaut Road, Kennedy Space Centre

STS-133 Launch Panorama

Space shuttle Discovery soars into the Florida skies, as seen in this 180° panorama taken from Astronaut Road. The massive Vehicle Assembly Building can be seen on the right, and Launch Complex 39B on the left. (Click image to view larger.)

Launch of Discovery STS-133, LC-39A, Kennedy Space Centre


Space shuttle Discovery reaches for the sky on her final mission, consuming over 20,000lbs of propellant every second. Coincidentally, the Ongiara’s maximum vehicle load just happens to be 20,000lbs, which the shuttle consumes every second.

Submerged alligator, Kennedy Space Centre, Florida

Camera Assistant

An alligator floats in the swamps of Kennedy Space Centre, a good reminder to be careful when setting up remote cameras.

Stork on barge pilings, Kennedy Space Centre, Florida

Stork Stack

A brown pelican (previously misidentified as a stork) sits on a piling used to secure the barge that transports the shuttle’s External Tanks.  The top of the STS-133 stack can be seen in the background.

Launch of Discovery STS-133, Kennedy Space Centre, Florida

Roll Maneuver

Space shuttle Discovery begins her Roll Program, turning the vehicle 180° so it ascends to orbit in a “heads down” position.  Here the Roll Program gives a perfect view between the External Tank and the orbiter.

STS-133 SRB Separation, LC-39A, Kennedy Space Centre

Staging Progression

About two minutes after liftoff in a sequence called “staging”, Discovery’s SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters) separate from the External Tank to begin their parachute-controlled decent to the ocean below for recovery. (Click image to view larger.)

ISS and Discovery Over Toronto, Centre Island, Toronto Islands


The International Space Station, with a full complement of visiting vehicles from all participating nations, soars in orbit over Toronto at 7:02 P.M. This is a stacked set of eight images, the gaps in the trail are caused by the ~1 second delay between shutter actuations.

Launch of STS-133, LC-39A, Kennedy Space Centre

One More Time

Space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the launch pad for the final time.  Within twenty seconds of missing her launch window and being forced to abort, she had a flawless ascent to orbit.

STS-133 SSME Stabilization, LC-39A, Kennedy Space Centre

SSME Stabilization

Space shuttle Discovery’s SSMEs (Space Shuttle Main Engines) stabilize after ignition in this sequence.  From left to right, the rough orange flame stabilizes to form a smooth blue flow, displaying the characteristic “Mach diamonds”, formed by the supersonic flow of the engine’s exhaust.

Launch of STS-133, LC-39A, Kennedy Space Centre

Pillars of Fire

Riding twin pillars of fire, veteran space shuttle Discovery embarks on her final voyage to orbit from LC-39A.  After this final mission, she’ll be processed and turned over to the Smithsonian for permanent display.