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Following Discovery’s triumphant final flight from her Florida Spaceport home and victory lap tour above the skies of Washington D.C. – piggybacked atop a 747 Jumbo Jet – she landed at her permanent new home at the Smithsonian’s Virginia annex on April 17 and the dynamic duo taxied off the Dulles Airport runway to a temporary parking spot off to the side.

Tonight, Discovery is being demated from the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, designated NASA 905.

Discovery awaits Demating after landing at Dulles Airport on April 17, 2012 and as numerous aircraft fly by for landing descent. Discovery sits atop modified Boeing 747 carrier jet. Hoisting cranes at left.
Credit: Ken Kremer

As Discovery awaited demating off to the side of a Dulles runway, numerous jets have descended right past – with some lucky passengers catching a birds eye glimpse of that remarkable sight of Discovery sitting atop a 747 jet.

A pair of rented monstrous cranes at front and back will hoist Discovery – weighing around 166,000 pounds – off the jets rear and three unbolted attach points. The 747 will then be backed out, Discovery’s landing gear and wheels will be extended and the cranes will gently lower NASA’s most experienced shuttle orbiter to the ground in a delicate and rarely performed ballet.

Demating cranes, Discovery and NASA 905 Jumbo Jet at Dulles Airport on April 17, 2012.
Credit: Ken Kremer

A small crew of the few remaining shuttle workers has meticulously prepared the Dulles airport site over the past few weeks, drilled stabilizing holes into the tarmac and assembled the Demag cranes which stem from a company in New Jersey and were specially flown in from a Canadian worksite.

NASA’s fleet leading orbiter will then be towed a short distance to her permanent new home at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

The public is invited to attend the Smithsonian’s “Welcome Discovery Day Celebration” on Thursday, April 19 to witness the final leg of Discovery’s trip, being towed inside. The museum doors open at 8 a.m. sharp.

Those who attend the Smithsonian’s April 19 festivities will be treated to a once in a lifetime view of a shuttle shuffle and two space shuttles – Discovery and Enterprise -poised nose to nose for about 4 hours.

Space Shuttle Enterprise is being towed out of the Udvar-Hazy Center to make way for parking Discovery in her new home at the exact same spot now occupied by the prototype orbiter Enterprise since 2003.

Over the weekend, Enterprise will be hoisted atop the modified 747 and fly to her new home in New York City on April 23 – weather permitting.

Enterprise will land at JFK Airport and eventually be transported by barge to the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in Manhattan.

See you at the Smithsonian and send Ken your Discovery photos to post at Universe Today.

Ken Kremer

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

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