NASA consultant sentimental about launch

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - After 143 million miles and nearly a year spent in orbit, space shuttle Discovery blasted off for its final mission.

"This mission is so important and such a milestone, because Discovery has been one of the most reliable in the fleet," said local scientist and NASA Consultant Chuck Watson.

Watson was stationed at Cape Canaveral for Discovery's first launch and says it's hard to see the shuttle go.

"It's first launch was my first launch so this in terms with NASA and the program the Discovery was the at the beginning and in some sense we are sad to see it go. but it is time for it to go," said Watson. "The shuttle program is 30 years old. The shuttle was designed 40 years ago."

It has been a bumpy retirement for the Discovery, fuel tank cracks cropped up during the initial countdown in early November.

"The last few months there has been alot of repair," said Watson.

The oldest of the surviving shuttles, the Discovery, carried the Hubble space telescope into orbit and got NASA flying again after the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disaster.

"Some of the data that I use to predict hurricanes, earthquakes is from satellite that were launched on shuttle Discovery," said Watson. "It is a great shuttle and performer, again sad it is retiring."

In 11 days when the Discovery returns, the future of the space program will remain unknown.

"It is time really to retire these vehicles, but we are a little afraid of it in the space community, because there is no follow on," said Watson. "There is no plan right now for a successor for shuttle and when we will make another giant leap for mankind."

While this is the final mission scheduled for the discovery, there are two more flights planned before the shuttle fleet retires.

Endeavor is scheduled to launch in April with Commander Mark Kelly. His wife, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is still recovering from a gunshot wound from an attack in January. However, Mark Kelly says his wife will be at the launch.

Copyright 2011 WTOC. All rights reserved.