Before being permanently brought down to Earth, the space shuttle Discovery hitched a final ride on Tuesday to its new home at the Smithsonian on the back of a 747.
Many in Washington took a break to scan the sky and snap pictures of the crafts, oddly conjoined like two springtime dragonflies, as they made a series of ceremonial flyovers of the capital.
Spectators stopped their cars or headed to rooftops to catch a glimpse, exclaiming on Twitter after each successful sighting.
On the Twitter account of the Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA posted pictures, some with Instagram’s age-imitating filters, giving the final flight a bit of the feel of its first, in August 1984.
The shuttle arrived from its final airborne journey at Washington Dulles International Airport late on Tuesday morning. After being carefully prepared — with an aerodynamic tail cap — and attached to the jumbo jet over the weekend, it was set to dismount for a last ride, by land, to the Virginia annex of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
NASA provided a sunrise photo of the four-wing, two-tail craft — described as a modified 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft — along with a short history of the space shuttle program on its Web site:
NASA’s space shuttle fleet began setting records with its first launch on April 12, 1981 and continued to set high marks of achievement and endurance through 30 years of missions. Starting with Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, the spacecraft has carried people into orbit repeatedly, launched, recovered and repaired satellites, conducted cutting-edge research and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station. The final space shuttle mission, STS-135, ended July 21, 2011 when Atlantis rolled to a stop at its home port, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Below is video of from Discovery’s final launch into space in February of 2011:
By J. David Goodman
April 17th, 2012