Discovery Space Shuttle Flies Over Washington, DC
The space shuttle Discovery made its final landing today at Virginia’s Dulles International Airport in preparation for its transfer to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Discovery left Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida at 7 a.m. atop NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), with members of the shuttle’s first and last missions there to say goodbye.
“This is the place where people have really taken care of Discovery for its entire life,” NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, a mission specialist on Discovery’s final flight, said of KSC. “It’s like sending someone from your family to go live somewhere else.”
As it approached the nation’s capital, Discovery flew 1,500 feet above various parts of the Washington, D.C. before landing at Dulles around 11am. The shuttle, which returned from its last trip to the International Space Station in March 2011, will be transferred to the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar in Chantilly, Virginia on April 19.
Spectators were out to catch a glimpse of Discovery as it flew over D.C., posting photos of the shuttle in the shadow of the White House, the D.C. Waterfront, Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol (right), and more. Space enthusiasts have been sharing their shots on NASA’s Flickr account, with the agency re-tweeting some of the more impressive photos. Those who spotted the shuttle can also enter to win a seat at the April 19 Welcome Discovery Ceremony, which is open to the public but on a first-come, first-served basis.
A student Discovery Day is planned for April 20, while April 21-22 is considered Family Weekend.
In its lifetime, Discovery flew 39 missions, more than any other vehicle in the shuttle fleet, NASA said. The vehicle’s 26-year flight history started on Aug. 30, 1984 and over the years, it deployed the Hubble Space Telescope and carried John Glenn on the STS-95 mission, 36 years after his pioneering Mercury flight, among other things.
NASA’s space shuttle program retired last year after 30 years in order for the agency to focus on deep-space exploration. In April 2011, NASA announced that its space shuttle fleet would retire to locations in New York, Virginia, California, and Florida.
Shuttle Endeavour will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Shuttle Atlantis will remain at KSC, Shuttle Enterprise will move from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, and Discovery will take Enterprise’s place.
Enterprise is scheduled to fly over the New York City metro area on April 23 between 9:30 – 11:30am. The exact route and timing will depend on weather and operational constraints, but it will hopefully fly near a variety of landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty and the Intrepid, before landing at JFK International Airport.