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The last trip for the workhorse, the Great Comforter.  I watched with Sam The Baby Nephew on my lap, one hand hanging up the phone and a forest floor's worth of notes on Drum Majors scattered at my feet. 

This is not how I thought it would end.

But Will The Small Child Nephew was fascinated, Jim The Nephew sat still, and I only cried a little, resting a cheek atop Sam's warm little head.  He won't know the shuttle.  I was hoping he'd know something even better.  Maybe he eventually he will.  But the fact is that, at my last reading, the audience was shocked to hear that when the shuttle program ends, so does the American manned program.

"I'm afraid of heights," Will announced as Discovery roared uphill one last time.  "I don't want to go into space."

"You don't have to if you don't want to," I said, bouncing Sam.

"I want to go into space," Jim said.  "In an airplane.  I'll fly you and Uncle Josh."

"Okay then."

"Aunt Beth, are you sad?"

"A little bit.  But I'm happy for the astronauts."

That is the best and final gift as Discovery leaves us; as she was the one who surged forward after her two elder sisters had fallen, she'll now lead us in preparing for the end of it all.  I hope we've learned.  But, given the fact that Fox News cut out of the launch after the solid rocket boosters dropped, I doubt it.

She backflips today on her way to the International Space Station, a manuever she never had to perform until after Columbia, but also a necessary one as she prepares to dock with an orbiting wonder we thought would never come to pass after Challenger was gone.  Discovery is the white knight of Hubble, the dependable elder who was never designed for the role, the beloved of the astronaut corps.

Godspeed, good lady.  You don't deserve the dust you're about to start collecting.

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