U.S. space shuttle Discovery, the most-flown spacecraft in history, made its final trip and landed in the nation's capital on Tuesday where it will go on permanent display by the Smithsonian later this week.
U.S. space shuttle Discovery, the most-flown spacecraft in history, made its final trip and landed in the nation's capital on Tuesday where it will go on permanent display by the Smithsonian later this week. [Photo: sina.com]
The air- and spacecraft duo's four-hour flight left the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:58 a.m. (1058 GMT), just after dawn. They landed at Washington Dulles International Airport at 11:05 a. m. EDT (1505 GMT).
The departure marked a final separation for Discovery and the Kennedy Space Center, which had served as the shuttle's home base and launch site since 1983.
Thousands also packed the National Mall to watch the pair swoop by. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and other former NASA astronauts and staff awaited the shuttle's arrival at Dulles.
"People get emotionally attached to the shuttle," said Bolden. "You bet we do."
Bolden flew two of his four space missions on Discovery, taking part in one of the most important deliveries: the Hubble telescope.
On Thursday morning, Discovery will be rolled over to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located adjacent to the airport, for a formal transfer ceremony. More than a dozen of the shuttle's former mission commanders, as well as Smithsonian and NASA officials, will take part in the public event, which will kick off a four-day "Welcome Discovery" festival at the northern Virginia museum.
Discovery became the first of NASA's three shuttles to be retired when it landed a final time from space on March 2011. In three decades of service, it flew 39 missions -- more than any other spacecraft in history -- and logged more than a year in space.
NASA ended the shuttle program last summer after a 30-year run to focus on destinations beyond low-Earth orbit. The Obama administration wants to spur private companies to get into the space taxi business, freeing NASA to focus on deep space exploration and new technology development.
For at least the next three to five years -- until commercial passenger craft are available in the United States -- NASA astronauts will have to hitch multimillion-dollar rides on Russian Soyuz capsules to get to the International Space Station.