Space shuttle flies final mission to Smithsonian
Space shuttle Discovery, mounted atop a NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), flies over the Washington skyline as seen from a NASA T-38 aircraft, Tuesday, April 17, 2012. Used with Permission/ Robert Markowitz/NASA/MCT
NASA’s space shuttle Discovery made its final flight from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. on April 17. The now-retired shuttle found a new home in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum where it will be on permanent display. Discovery is the first of the retired United States shuttle fleet to be put on display, marking the end of 30 years of human spaceflight.
Discovery is the oldest surviving shuttle of the US fleet and flew 39 missions beginning in 1984 and ending in March 2011. Other shuttles in the fleet include Endeavour and Atlantis, which landed in July of 2011, marking the end of the shuttle program. Two shuttles, Challenger and Columbia, never made it back to Earth. Both were destroyed in accidents: Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003.
Discover’s debut in the Smithsonian marks the end of the shuttle program and ultimately the space program. The end of the United States shuttle fleet leaves Russia the only country of capable of space travel.
Currently, the shuttle’s prototype, Enterprise, is flying high in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, a separate building in Chantilly, Va. that is part of the National Air and Space Museum. However, the prototype was moved to New York City on April 23 and is on display on at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.
A modified Boeing 747 airplane serves as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) for NASA. This was the 806th flight the SCA made—218 included carrying a shuttle and the 39th time carrying Discovery.
The shuttle was delayed until the 17 because of high winds that prevented flight.
As Discovery flew over the Capitol for the final time, crowds cheered for this momentous occasion. The Welcome Discovery Ceremony, held April 19 at the Udvar-Hazy Center, celebrated the switch of the aircrafts on display.
“The large crowd was thrilled to see something that will never be seen again: Discovery and Enterprise placed nose-to-nose,” reads the National Air and Space Museum’s website.
The welcome ceremony included astronauts such as John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, to speak. Also, 14 of the surviving 31 living commanders attended.
Discovery finished its final mission from Florida to the Capitol and is now at its final resting place in the Smithsonian.