<p><strong>Clouds of exhaust blanket Launch Pad 39A at <a id="pdab" title="NASA's Kennedy Space Center" href="http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/home/index.html">NASA's Kennedy Space Center</a> as the <a id="hc9z" title="space shuttle" href="http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/space/space-exploration/space-shuttle-program.html">space shuttle</a> <em>Discovery</em> lifts off for the first time in August 1984. </strong></p><p>Since that maiden voyage, <em>Discovery</em> has logged the most flight hours of any shuttle in NASA's fleet: The craft has flown 38 missions into space and spent 351 days in orbit so far. If all goes as planned, the shuttle's launch this month will be <em>Discovery'</em>s final mission. (Find out how to <a id="uwmo" title="vote for the wakeup songs to be played during Discovery's final flight" href="http://blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/news/breakingorbit/2010/11/space-shuttle-discovery-launch-wakeup-songs.html">vote for the wake-up songs to be played during <em>Discovery'</em>s final flight</a>.)</p><p>Over the years <em>Discovery</em> has earned a reputation among historians and shuttle enthusiasts as the "dependable older sibling" of the space shuttle fleet.</p><p>"Its legacy is that it is the reliable workhorse," said Robert Pearlman, editor of the space history and artifacts website <a id="j.10" title="collectSPACE.com" href="http://www.collectspace.com/">collectSPACE.com</a>. "Whenever it's been called into service, it's performed."</p><p>(<a id="iadl" title="Get the full story of Discovery's legacy >>" href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/11/101102-science-space-shuttle-discovery-launch-final-flight/">Get the full story of the space shuttle <em>Discovery'</em>s legacy.</a>)</p><p><em>With reporting by Ker Than</em>.</p>

Discovery's First Ride

Clouds of exhaust blanket Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center as the space shuttle Discovery lifts off for the first time in August 1984.

Since that maiden voyage, Discovery has logged the most flight hours of any shuttle in NASA's fleet: The craft has flown 38 missions into space and spent 351 days in orbit so far. If all goes as planned, the shuttle's launch this month will be Discovery's final mission. (Find out how to vote for the wake-up songs to be played during Discovery's final flight.)

Over the years Discovery has earned a reputation among historians and shuttle enthusiasts as the "dependable older sibling" of the space shuttle fleet.

"Its legacy is that it is the reliable workhorse," said Robert Pearlman, editor of the space history and artifacts website collectSPACE.com. "Whenever it's been called into service, it's performed."

(Get the full story of the space shuttle Discovery's legacy.)

With reporting by Ker Than.

Photograph courtesy NASA

Pictures: Space Shuttle Discovery's Milestone Moments

From Hubble to the first woman space shuttle pilot—Discovery, whose final mission begins soon, has helped make spaceflight history.

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