After three decades of space service, NASA’s oldest and most traveled shuttle, Discovery, began its new life as a museum relic with one final takeoff. Discovery departed Florida’s Kennedy Space Center at daybreak Tuesday aboard a modified jumbo jet bound for Washington, where it will become a Smithsonian exhibit.
The space shuttle Discovery has made a dramatic flyover of Washington DC on the way to its final resting place at a museum outside the US capital. Piggybacking aboard a Boeing 747, Discovery soared over the Washington Monument, the White House and the dome of the Capitol, as thousands packing the National Mall to witness the final salute. The shuttle was on its way to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, the nation’s official repository for space artefacts. The United States retired its space shuttles last year after finishing work on the $100 billion International Space Station.
NASA will now begin work on a new generation of spaceships that can carry astronauts to destinations beyond the station’s 384-kilometre-high orbit ::::
The US space shuttle Discovery sits atop NASA’s 747 shuttle carrier aircraft on April 16, 2012, as they are parked on the apron of the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Centre, Florida with her last crew (STS-133), (L to R) Alan Drew, Nicole Stott, Michael Barrett, Steve Bowen, Pilot Eric Boe and Commander Steve Lindsey.
Discovery, the fleet leader of NASA’s three surviving shuttles, completed its last spaceflight in March 2011.
“It’s sad to see this happening,” NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, a member of Discovery’s final crew, said. “But you look at it and you just can’t help but be impressed by it. That’s my hope now, that every time someone looks at that vehicle they are impressed, that they feel that this is what we can do when we challenge ourselves.”
For its last ride, Discovery took off not from its seaside launch pad but atop the modified Boeing 747 that taxied down the Kennedy Space Centre’s runway at dawn. The shuttle’s tail was capped with an aerodynamically shaped cone and its windows were covered.
“It’s a very emotional, poignant, bittersweet moment,” former astronaut Mike Mullane, a veteran of three space shuttle missions, said. “When it’s all happening you think, ‘This will never end,’ but we all move on.”
April 17, 2012 — In its final journey to its permanent museum home, NASA’s space shuttle Discovery makes a flyover above the U.S. capital. NASA coordinated with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to navigate through the restricted air space over Washington, D.C.
After a loop around Washington DC, the shuttle carrier plane touched down at Washington Dulles International Airport.
Once at the national museum, Discovery will replace Enterprise, a prototype orbiter on display at the museum that was used for atmospheric test flights in the 1970s. Enterprise is being transferred to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City later this month.
Sister ships Endeavour and Atlantis will go on exhibit at the California Science Centre in Los Angeles, and at the Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex in Florida, respectively, later this year.
“We need to preserve our history for future generations and send these off to museums to remember what we did,” former astronaut Steven Lindsey, the commander of the last Discovery crew, said.
Mr Lindsey is now working with privately held Sierra Nevada Corp, one of several firms developing commercial space taxis for NASA and other customers.
“All the lessons learned from shuttle, we’re using in the design of our spacecraft. We’re updating the technologies, but the basic principles are the same. Every program builds on the previous program,” he said.
Private US companies plan to start the first cargo runs to the International Space Station within weeks.