[The following is an open letter to Greater New Milford-area residents from the volunteers at the McCarthy Observatory on the campus of New Milford High School.]

Dear friends of the McCarthy Observatory:

As this was being written, the space shuttle Discovery was docked with the international space station, on its final mission.

Mission STS-133 is this vehicle's 39th mission to space.

Discovery was the third member of the shuttle fleet, having been put into service August 30, 1984, deploying three communications satellites.

One-hundred eighty people have flown on Discovery for more than 5,600 trips around the earth. It has truly been the workhorse of the fleet, which will all be fully retired this year.

Discovery has a special place in our hearts locally , due to its deep involvement with the Hubble telescope. The Hubble was deployed from Discovery, on Mission STS-31 on April 25, 1990, nearly 21 years ago.

It was scheduled for 1986 launch but was delayed for four years after the Challenger disaster.

Discovery also participated in two of the five Hubble servicing missions: STS-82 -- Servicing Mission 2 in February, 1997 and STS-103 -- Servicing Mission 3A in December 1999.

The shuttle tire mounted in front of your observatory is a veteran of Mission STS-82, having flown 4.1 million miles in earth orbit while five "Extra-Vehicular Activities" (EVA's) or "space walks" were performed repairing and upgrading the spectacular instrument.

The name "Discovery" was drawn from historic Earth-bound exploration vessels, such as the ship used in the early 1600s by Henry Hudson to explore Hudson Bay and search for a northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

It is also named for the ship used by British explorer James Cook in the 1770s during his voyages in the South Pacific, leading to the discovery of 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. This made it fitting NASA's Discovery carried the Hubble space telescope into space, as the Hubble instrument continues to improve on its well-deserved recognition as the most important scientific instrument ever built.

The discoveries made by this instrument have been pathfinders in unveiling the makeup and history of the cosmos.

With recent upgrades, it is now doing better science than ever, probing ever deeper into the earliest events in the life of our universe.

This month, the observatory is receiving a shuttle tile from NASA -- one of the most widely known artifacts of the shuttle program.

It will be on permanent display, as a local touchstone for us to remember and celebrate the accomplishments of the shuttle program, and all the bright, brave, and dedicated people who made it such a success.

And, to especially reflect and pay respects to the crews of the Challenger and Columbia vehicles who lost their lives in the service of mankind's discovery of the secrets of the universe.

All-volunteer team

John J. McCarthy Observatory

New Milford