It was a sad day out at the Kennedy Space Center for those of us who’ve been around the shuttle program for a while. Sure, we know the ships stopped flying last year, but watching preparations for Discovery’s final flight — in the horizontal, not vertical orientation — was sobering.
“I almost feel like I’m at a funeral and there’s the hearse,” said one of my long-time space reporter pals, Bill Harwood, with CBS.
We were looking at the shuttle perched atop its 747 jet carrier, ready for departure at dawn for Washington Dulles International Airport.
From there, the shuttle was flown to its new home at the nearby Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., an annex of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. On its way the shuttle made a flyover tour above the nation’s capital.
It’s a place of honor, to be sure, but Discovery’s departure underscores the fact that there is nothing launching from Kennedy Space Center these days.
Following in Discovery’s footsteps will be shuttle Endeavour’s departure for the California Science Center in Los Angeles in September and Atlantis’ tow down the road to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in November.
“You think this will never end, but we all move on,” said former astronaut Mike Mullane, who flew three times on the shuttles.
I’m sure that’s true, but it may take a while.
Image: Top: Space shuttle Discovery mounted atop a 747 shuttle carrier aircraft, flies by the Washington Monument during a flyover of the nation’s capital on its final trip (Getty Images). Bottom: Discovery awaits for departure in Florida on Monday (Irene Klotz)