If you were near the National Mall in Washington, DC, between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. yesterday, and happened to glance upward, what you saw may have surprised you – the space shuttle Discovery riding atop a 747.
On Thursday, Discovery will join the great aviation collection at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, where she will continue to inspire and help tell the story of our nation’s many achievements in aviation and space exploration.
But first, after leaving the Kennedy Space Center for the last time early yesterday morning, the shuttle-jet pair delighted spectators by taking a spin around the Washington Monument, the White House, and the Capitol, with a brief flyover near Reagan National Airport. The two finally landed at Dulles International Airport, where I had the opportunity to join officials from NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Smithsonian in welcoming Discovery to her new home.
The longest-serving veteran of NASA’s space shuttle fleet, Discovery flew 39 missions, spent 365 days in space, orbited Earth 5,830 times, and traveled 148,221,675 miles between 1984 and its last completed spaceflight in March 2011.
As Discovery enters the Smithsonian, it’s important to remember the many accomplishments of which the shuttle program can be very proud.
Thirty years of flights not only helped the U.S. launch satellites, but those three decades also showed us that we could repair them in-orbit, too. In addition, the program opened doors to women and minority astronauts, was responsible for many scientific discoveries, and made possible the International Space Station.
Pam Melroy, the Senior Technical Advisor in the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation and a former astronaut who flew two of her three missions on Discovery, thinks the world of this extraordinary family of aircraft:
"The Space Shuttle is the most powerful, capable spacecraft ever built. It can launch like a rocket, act as an orbiting scientific space station, and dock to other vehicles. You can perform both robotics and spacewalks from her. And of course, you can land softly and smoothly like an airplane. Additionally, it is the only spacecraft that was capable of carrying large payloads home from space. We will not see another vehicle as capable or complex for at least another generation."
Discovery served our nation well, and I have no doubt that she will continue to inspire millions of visitors at the Udvar-Hazy Center for decades to come.
Watch video of the Reagan National flyover, courtesy of FAA