Tuesday, 17 April 2012 11:34
April 17, 2012
The Space Shuttle Discovery embarked on its final flight this week, though instead of flying to space, a 747 carried the storied spacecraft to Washington, D.C.
NASA officially retired its Space Shuttle program last year, after more than three decades in service. Discovery spent a significant amount of time in space, transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station. In total, Discovery logged 365 days and 148 million miles in space over its more than 30-year career.
Discovery first launched in August 1984, and over its illustrious career it circled the Earth more than 5,800 times. The spacecraft also completed a total of 39 missions, a record number. Among the myriad astronauts who trekked into space aboard Discovery were Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle commander, and John Glenn, who at 77 became the oldest person to ever visit space.
On Tuesday, NASA officially sent Discovery to Washington, where it will reside in the Smithsonian Institute, a relic of a bygone era in American history. The retirement of the Space Shuttle was highly controversial, particularly among NASA scientists, as the space agency's dwindling budget could no longer support such an expensive program.
Discovery was transported from Florida's Kennedy Space Center on a customized jumbo jet. NASA officials noted the jet would fly at a relatively low altitude over the nation's capital – around 5,000 feet – and thousands exited their office buildings to watch the historic event. The Boeing 747 that hauled the craft landed at Virginia's Dulles Airport around 11 a.m., according to The New York Post.
Crews will inspect Discovery this week to ensure it did not incur any damage during its flight between Florida and Virginia. By the end of the week, Discovery will be transported to its final resting place at the Smithsonian Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which is located just south of Dulles in Chantilly, Virginia.
Though it will reside in Virginia as a testament to the nation's leading space program, Discovery is missing a number of key components. NASA spokesperson Michael Curie said they had previously removed its rocket engines and other potentially dangerous components.
"All of the rocket engines, tanks and plumbing for these systems were removed to make the shuttles safe for public display," he said. When the shuttles flew, they contained propellants needed to steer them in space (monomethyl hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide), which are hazardous. There also was ammonia to cool equipment and various other chemicals."
NASA crews worked for months to make sure the spacecraft was safe for public display, Curie added. He said that following Discovery's final voyage in March 2011, scientists oversaw work to remove critical parts and ready it for its final resting place in Chantilly.
After the extensive overhaul was completed, NASA moved Discovery to Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building. While there, crews carefully attached the Space Shuttle to a specially designed jumbo jet, one NASA also used to first deliver Discovery to Cape Canaveral in November 1983.
The Los Angeles Times reports New York City and Los Angeles could also be treated to a flyover over in the coming weeks. With the delivery of the Discovery in Virginia, officials are now set to move two shuttles from Virginia to New York and California, and NASA is planning another spectacle for residents.