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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (KSC area,FL) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, FOX, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now, Science 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, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 80 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight – www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter