Boeing received the contract to build NASA's third space shuttle,Discovery (OV-103), on Jan. 29, 1979 and it was rolled out of the Palmdale plant on Oct. 16, 1983. Discovery is named for two famous sailing ships; one sailed by Henry Hudson in 1610-11 to search for a northwest passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the other by James Cook on a voyage during which he discovered the Hawaiian Islands. In addition, two British Royal Geographical Society ships have carried the name "Discovery" as they sailed on expeditions to the North Pole and the Antarctic.
Discovery arrived for the first time at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 9, 1983. After checkout and processing, it was launched on Aug. 30, 1984, for its first mission, 41-D, to deploy three communications satellites. Since that inaugural flight, Discovery has completed 38 successful missions -- more than any other shuttle in NASA's fleet. Just like all of the space shuttles, it has undergone some major modifications over the years. Discovery has the distinction of being chosen as the Return to Flight shuttle twice. The first was for STS-26 in 1988, and its most recent flight was for STS-114 in 2005.
Discovery benefited from lessons learned in the construction and testing of Enterprise, Columbia and Challenger. At rollout, its weight was some 6,870 pounds less than Columbia. Two orbiters, Challenger and Discovery, were modified at KSC to enable them to carry the Centaur upper stage in the payload bay. These modifications included extra plumbing to load and vent Centaur's cryogenic (L02/LH2) propellants (other IUS/PAM upper stages use solid propellants), and controls on the aft flight deck for loading and monitoring the Centaur stage. No Centaur flight was ever flown and after the loss of Challenger it was decided that the risk was too great to launch a shuttle with a fueled Centaur upper stage in the payload bay.