Space Shuttles shut down: Discovery flies for the last time, this evening

Later today Space Shuttle Discovery will lift off for the last time (at 4.50pm in Florida, 9.50pm GMT). The event marks the beginning of the end of an era, with the much-used shuttles the mainstay of the US space program; astronauts will have to rely on Russian assistance in the immediate future.

The launch coincides with the announcement last week from the Boeing Company that it will donate $5m to the Air Force Museum Foundation in three instalments over the next three years. This will help construct a 200,000-square-foot building to house artifacts covering the history of the US space program including a retired space shuttle, if it's granted one by NASA.

There has been a great deal of competition for the retiring shuttles, and it's easy to underestimate the significance with which many regard collectibles from the shuttle programme.

At Bonhams' Space sale in the summer of 2009, pieces from the shuttle programme exceeded their estimates more than their share of the time, with bidders noticeably anxious to pick up early models of the shuttles and parts from the actual mechanism.

An early shuttle model based on initial design concepts at the Manned Spacecraft Centre led by Dr Faget brought $23,180 in 2009, whilst Commander John Young's Flown Flight Suit Patches from Columbia's first mission sold for a whopping $56,762.

More affordably, just this month a flown Space Shuttle Challenger insulator tile was the top lot at Lunar Legacies achieving $7,550.


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