After wind delayed yesterday’s lift operations to place Discovery atop a modified NASA 747 jumbo jet, technicians today completed their task mounting the orbiter to her shuttle carrier aircraft in preparation for Discovery’s scheduled flight to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Tuesday morning.
The weather today cooperated beautifully, with lots of sun and light winds dominating the scene and allowing shuttle workers to continue readying the 2 vehicles for their historic upcoming flight. Lift operations began around 5am, with the first motion of Discovery’s lift taking place as the first light of sun began to stretch across the horizon. After retracting Discovery’s landing gear the lift took roughly 40 minutes to complete, raising the 167,000 pound orbiter to 60 feet and allowing the 747 to carefully position itself underneath the shuttle.
After lowering Discovery to within an arm’s reach of the shuttle carrier aircraft, technicians began the task of attaching the orbiter, what NASA calls a ‘soft mate’. Workers then continued to secure the two vehicles firmly together, ‘hard-mating’ the SCA/shuttle vehicle to accept the aerodynamic forces they will encounter on Tuesday’s flight.
With the vehicles now mated and flight ready, NASA plans on backing the shuttle carrier aircraft out on the shuttle landing facility tarmac Monday morning to allow workers, media, and members of the public visiting Kennedy Space Center a chance to say goodbye to Discovery up close and personal. Members from Discovery’s first and final astronaut crews will be on hand for interviews with the media as well.
Weather permitting, the 747 / space shuttle aircraft will take off at first light Tuesday morning shortly after 7am. Weather forecasts currently call for light winds out of the south east, which would allow for the SCA to take off southbound. NASA plans on flying the aircraft up and down Florida’s Space Coast for folks in Brevard County to say good bye to the spacecraft they watched launch astronauts to the stars on 39 missions over a span of nearly 28 years. Discovery will fly over Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex, then south over Brevard County to Patrick Air Force Base. After reaching Patrick, the aircraft will head back north along the beach, making one last pass up the coast before departing Florida for good and cruising towards D.C. at an altitude of 15,000 feet, arriving at Dulles International Airport several hours later.
Discovery will be put on permanent public display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
All Photos Credit: Mike Killian