Preparing to Depart
April 17, 2012
-- With the end of the shuttle program last year, NASA is beginning to retire the fleet of its most iconic creations. Follow the space shuttle Discovery as it is flown to its final destination at the Smithsonian Institution in Virginia, reminding us of NASA's successful parlay of American ingenuity into regular low-orbit space travel. Space Shuttle Discovery (Near) sits by as Endeavor (Far) leaves the Orbiter Processing Facility on its way to the Vehicle Assembly Building for processing. Space Shuttles Endeavor and Discovery switched buildings as they are being decommissioned with the end of the Shuttle program.
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Ready for Takeoff Discovery piggybacks on a NASA modified Boeing 747 for its journey to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Each of the four remaining orbiters will have homes at museums around the United States. Atlantis will stay at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Endeavor will go to Los Angeles and Enterprise, the prototype shuttle, will go to New York City. Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson told Space.com, "I want that picture of a young 6-year-old boy looking up at a space shuttle in a museum and saying, 'Daddy, I want to do something like that when I grow up."
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Saying Goodbye As the 747 and shuttle leave Florida's airspace for the last time, they fly over the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where it prepared for each of its missions.
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Saying Goodbye People look up and watch as Discovery departs for retirement. Since its completion in 1984, shuttle Discovery has flown more missions than any other shuttle – more than any other spacecraft, in fact," said NASA. It flew 39 missions, orbited the Earth 5,600 time and carried 180 people.
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Flying Space shuttles don't technically fly on their own, they glide from space using actuators, thrusters and aerobraking to slow their descent and touch down at specialized landing facilities. When shuttle Columbia landed STS-1 (the very first shuttle mission) in 1981 the commander and tower exchanged the following:
: Welcome home Columbia. Beautiful, beautiful.
John Young/STS-1 Commander
: Do I have to take it up to the hangar, Joe?
: We're going to dust it off first.
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DC Flyover On the way to Virgina for its final landing, Discovery pass over Washington, D.C. multiple times allowing for passersby and enthusiasts alike to see the rarity of a 747 carrying a space orbiter. Note the Lincoln Memorial in the lower left, and the small dot of the NASA T-38 chase plane alongside.
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Washington Monument The flyover took place between 10 and 11 am on April 17, 2012. With something so big it can be difficult to make precise maneuvers, but the pilot was able to loop the city and surrounding areas four times. The Smithsonian Institution said in a press release, the plane would fly at an altitude of 1,500 feet, or approximately three times the height of the Washington Monument.
Old Post Office As the orbiter-toting 747 turns for a final pass, the sun catches the vehicles by the Old Post Office tower on Pennsylvania Avenue.
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Final Pass As it makes its final pass over the Washington Monument you can see the NASA logo on the tail fin of the 747.
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Landing Coming in for a final landing at Dulles Airport in Virginia, the Discovery will be taken to Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center where it will participate in a few final celebrations before being put on permanent display.
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A Final Look The space shuttle program still has more trips to make. Enterprise, the prototype shuttle, is stored at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and has been on display since 2003. Though it never went into space, it has been used for flight operations and testing and will be hoisted onto the modified Boeing 747 for a trip to its final retirement home at the Intrepid Museum in New York City.
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