Discovery Space Shuttle Retires to DC

April 18, 2012 Updated: April 18, 2012
Epoch Times Photo
Space shuttle Discovery flew right over Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 17, on its last flight before retiring to the Smithsonian's annex at Dulles International Airport. (Shar Adams/The Epoch Times)

It was a significant moment, even in a place like Washington D.C. All eyes were turned to the sky as crowds gathered atop buildings, on street corners, and on the steps of Congress, to see the U.S. space shuttle Discovery on its last flight, Tuesday, April 17.

There were shouts of “There it is!” and “OMG, look at that!”—and then a respectful hush as the historic carrier graced the city, sweeping right at the Washington Monument and continuing up the National Mall, before gliding over the U.S. Capitol and disappearing behind the nation’s Supreme Court.

Flying at around 1,500 feet and attached to the specially modified 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), which has been stripped of any superfluous weight but will still burn through twice the fuel with the shuttle in tow, Discovery completed three circuits of the nation’s capital before touching down for the last time at Dulles International Airport, 11:05 a.m.

Epoch Times Photo
Discovery space shuttle flying by the Washington Monument in Washington, April 17. (Shar Adams/The Epoch Times)

Even atop NASA’s gigantic SCA, Discovery was no less diminished as she headed to retirement at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy annex, which is housed at Dulles Airport.

The winged aircraft will replace the test shuttle Enterprise, which has been housed at the Dulles annex since 1985. The Enterprise will move to New York where it will go on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. A similar flyover will announce the Enterprise’s arrival in New York next week.

The third space shuttle to go into orbit, Discovery followed Columbus and Challenger, and was the first space shuttle to fly after the Challenger disaster.

Epoch Times Photo
CEO of EADS North America and former Administrator of NASA Sean O'Keefe(L) looks around as the Space Shuttle Discovery sits on the back of a Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft at Washington, Dulles International Airport, April 17. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

In her 27 years of service, Discovery has flown 39 missions into space, more missions than any other shuttle. It was Discovery that carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit and sent the Ulysses robotic probe on its mission to the sun.

Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle pilot and also the first female shuttle commander, flew the Discovery, and it was Discovery that took the first Russian in an American spacecraft, and the first U.S. congressman, Sen. Jake Garn (R–Utah), into space.

Epoch Times Photo
The Discovery space shuttle flying over the Library of Congress in Washington, April 17. (Shar Adams/The Epoch Times)

End of an Era

The flyover marks the end of an era for NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program. The final space shuttle mission ended in July 2011, when Atlantis made its final stop at its home port, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Atlantis will remain in Florida, destined for a specially designed 65,000-square-foot exhibit, presently under construction at the Kennedy Space Shuttle Plaza.

Meanwhile, New York and Los Angeles will be the beneficiaries of similar flyovers to that of the Discovery, as they receive their own space shuttles for exhibit.

Epoch Times Photo
The Discovery space shuttle flying over the The Supreme Court in Washington, April 17. (Shar Adams/The Epoch Times)

The Enterprise will fly at “a relatively low altitude” right over New York City, including the Statue of Liberty and surrounding metropolitan areas, according to a statement from NASA. The time, weather permitting, will be between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., on Monday, April 23.

Following the flyover, the Enterprise will then be “demated” from the 747 and transported by barge and tugboat up the Hudson River to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum for exhibit by June.

The museum is to date working on a permanent exhibit facility to showcase Enterprise, according to the NASA statement.

Meanwhile, the Endeavor is to make its way from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to Los Angeles, atop a similar SCA 747 to arrive in the City of Angels around fall. Following a flyover, the Endeavor will be transported through city streets to its eventual home in the California Science Center in Exposition Park.