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Discovery Does Dulles & DC

Landing gear extended for Discovery touchdown at Dulles Airport and Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center as NASA T-38 jet leads the way. Credit: Ken Kremer

Space Shuttle Discovery took off from Florida on her final mission today atop a modified Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, headed north and ultimately did a well earned victory lap over the US capitol before closing out her flying career and landing at nearby Dulles Airport and her permanent new museum home at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia – where untold thousands and thousands gathered to witness together.

Throngs of onlookers lined the Florida Space Coast at the Kennedy Space Center to bid Discovery a tearful farewell from her home of nearly 30 highly productive years as she took off at the appointed hour of 7.a.m. EDT

Discovery flew 39 missions and delivered the incomparable and iconic Hubble Space Telescope into orbit.

Piggybacked Discovery approaches Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center on April 17, 2012. Credit: Ken Kremer

Many here and there were overwhelmingly sad that NASA’s shuttle program was prematurely cut short – barely a third of the way into the design lifetime and at the peak of performance for lack of political willpower and a small amount of federal funding, ceding US Leadership in Space.

Space Shuttle Discovery and 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft fly over the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on April 17, 2012. The duo buzzed the US capitol region before finally landing at Dulles Airport. Credit: Ken Kremer

Barely two hours later – and ahead of schedule – NASA’s Fleet leading orbiter arrived in the skies over Washington, DC greeted by cheering crowds numbering in the tens to hundreds of thousands who had gathered all across the Capitol region to celebrate the stunning sight of a Space Shuttle Orbiter flying piggyback on a Jumbo Jet just a few hundred feet overhead.

The flight crew put on a dazzling and extended display of impressive flying ability buzzing over historic sites like the Washington Monument and the US Capitol, the National Harbor and everyday abodes. They circled around and around far more than advertised – to everyone’s delight.

Discovery set to fly over the giant crowd of many thousands gathered to welcome her to the Udvar-Havy Center on April 17, 2012. Credit: Ken Kremer

I was thrilled to watch the glorious sky show from the grounds of the Smithsonian’s Undar Hazy Center along with thousands of enthusiastic and cheering gawkers. Luckily I arrived early. Because within an hour, the parking lot was completely full and well beyond capacity several hours before the Museum’s official opening time.

Just a smidgen of the massive crowd at the Udvar-Havy Center on hand to cheer Discovery’s arrival. Credit: Ken Kremer

We witnessed four ultra close flyovers, including one directly overhead. Everyone was whooping and hollering. It was like a fun family fair, kids playing and jumping all over the place. And it sure seemed like some parents kept their kids home from school a few hours to witness one in a lifetime history

Finally the wheels and landing gear of the NASA 905 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) were extended for final touchdown shortly after 11 a.m. – and a boisterous round of spontaneous applause erupted from the masses.

What a day of conflicting emotions – happy and sad, and absolutely not to be missed.

Discovery will next be hoisted off the SCA on Wednesday and then towed into her new abode on Thursday, April 19.

Stay tuned to Universe Today for continuing on-site coverage

Send Ken your flyover photos to post here at Universe Today.

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • starwatcher234 April 18, 2012, 12:54 PM

    So what will happen to the Shuttle Enterprise which was at the Undar Hazy Center?

    • Ken Kremer April 18, 2012, 1:14 PM

      its going to NY and the Interpid Air Sea and Space Museaum in a few days. watch for my follow-up articles shortly

  • ToSeek April 18, 2012, 7:38 PM

    Peak of performance? It’s not even allowed to do most of the missions (like satellite launching and repair) that it was designed for. Its only remaining use is as a ferry to the space station, and there are other ways of doing that. It wasn’t lack of political will but that the shuttle was unsafe, expensive, and unnecessary. It’s past time we moved on and came up with a better way of getting Americans into space, most of all one that’s less likely to kill them.

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