Space Shuttle Discovery over Wimberley, Texas
while Returning to Florida
from mission STS-103 "Hubble Servicing Mission 3A"
December 27, 1999 at 5:44 pm CST

It was dusk on Monday a couple of days after Christmas. Just a few days before the turn of the century. Family from far and wide filled the house. A day full of laughter and joy – and Discovery was coming home.

The first attempt had been waved off but the landing tracks for the next attempt looked like they went right over us. Everyone went outside to look up at the sky. Then, there it was. Like a slow, bright meteor moving across the sky with a tail that put comets to shame. Everyone was pointing. Kids were jumping up and down. I was snapping pictures - and looking up.

I'd watched shuttles come in over Texas before and new it would be an incredible sight, especially for the kids. At night the trail stretches across the sky glowing for minutes afterward, the sonic boom from far in the distance long after the ship has passed. I had been concerned about how bright it still was. But with the sun shining on it, the proximity of the flightpath, and a lot of luck, Discovery itself can just be made out. With some cropping and adjustments, the shape of the vehicle is apparent. What's more, you can even see the bright spots just in front of the leading edges of the craft!

It's been years now. Everyone is older. Shuttle flights are no more. But everyone there remembers it. A memory of a lifetime. Present to a moment of history.

  • STS-103 was the last solo flight of Discovery, all later flights of Discovery were to the ISS.
  • STS-103 reached the highest orbit any shuttle had ever flown - at the apogee of 609 kilometers (378 mi) above Earth
  • mission lasted 7 days, 23 hours, 11 minutes 34 seconds
  • 4 crew members worked in pairs on three 2-person EVA's totalling 24 hours, 33 minutes outside the spacecraft.
  • Landing at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, runway 33, on December 27, 1999, 7:01:34 p.m. EST
  • Miles Traveled: 3.2 million
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Buy the Poster
Shuttle Poster

  • Scott Kelly, the pilot of STS-103, is the brother of Mark Kelly who is married to Gabrielle Giffords.
  • STS-103 carried hundreds of thousands of student signatures as part of the Student Signatures in Space (S3) program
  • Astronaut John Grunsfeld, who was one of the mission specialists on this mission, brought a "Planet Mars Flag" aboard Discovery.
Planet Mars Flag

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