Space shuttle Discovery is parked on the tarmac atop a NASA 747 shuttle carrier aircraft at Kennedy Space Center’s shuttle landing facility tonight, ready to launch on one final flight tomorrow morning; a one-way trip from Florida to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
The 747 shuttle carrier aircraft which will fly Discovery ‘piggyback’ from Florida to Washington D.C. backed out of the mate/demate device (MDM) shortly after 7am EDT and parked on the tarmac for the day, allowing technicians to perform some last minute tasks to prepare the aircraft for tomorrow’s historic flight and present an opportunity to KSC workers, media, and members of the public to say good bye to the fleet leading space shuttle which flew 148 million miles on 39 missions over the last 28 years.
The astronauts who flew Discovery’s final mission in 2011 were on hand to wish farewell to the vehicle that flew them to, and from, the International Space Station on their historic mission last year. “I’m definitely sad to see this happening, but I look at Discovery on the SCA and hope people are impressed by what they see,” said astronaut Nicole Stott, who flew as a mission specialist on Discovery’s final mission STS-133. “I think the Smithsonian will put together an impressive display for everyone to see. I really look forward to taking my whole family up there and taking in the view from that perspective.”
VIDEO: Interview with STS-133 Mission Specialist Nicole Stott. Astronaut Nicole Stott, who flew on Discovery’s final mission last year, took a few minutes to discuss her thoughts on the end of the shuttle program, her experiences flying on Discovery, her thoughts on the commercial space industry taking off, and her hopes for the future. Credit: Melanie Lee / video, Mike Killian / interview
As it stands right now, Discovery will depart Kennedy Space Center at 7am EDT tomorrow morning (April 17). The aircraft will make a low pass over the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, then continue south over Brevard County to give residents an opportunity to say farewell to the spacecraft that has called their backyard home for nearly three decades. The SCA will fly south along the Indian River at an expected altitude of 500-1000 feet and turn back north once it reaches Patrick Air Force Base. At that time the aircraft is expected to fly up the coast along the beach, eventually making one final pass over Kennedy Space Center before departing the area northbound and flying up the coast towards Dulles International Airport at an altitude of around 15,000 feet.
Weather forecasts look favorable in both central Florida and Washington D.C. for tomorrow’s flight.
People in the D.C. area are invited to participate with the Smithsonian’s coverage of Discovery’s arrival by uploading photos and videos to the organization’s Flickr, Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook pages. A contest will also be held for people to register their name after spotting the shuttle for a chance to win a seat in the VIP section at the ‘Welcome Discovery’ Transfer Ceremony April 19, where NASA will officially transfer Discovery to the National Air and Space Museum at the Udvar Hazy Center.
“An acquisition of this importance happens rarely in the life of a museum,” says Air and Space curator Dr. Valerie Neal. “It is an honor and privilege to welcome Discovery into the national collection, where it will be displayed, preserved, and cared for forever.”
A multitude of other events and activities including book signings, NASA presentations, science demonstrations, hands-on activities, and movies will be taking place in the days following Discovery’s arrival – including a ‘Student Discovery Day’ April 20th and a ‘Family Weekend’ April 21-22.
During the orbiter’s 27 years of service to NASA, she flew missions for the Department of Defense (details of which are still kept secret to this day), delivered satellites to orbit, delivered the Hubble Space Telescope to orbit, visited Russia’s MIR space station, helped construct the International Space Station, and flew the first African American commander and first female pilot of the space program. After the tragic losses of Challenger and Columbia, Discovery was chosen by NASA for both ‘Return to Flight’ missions afterwards, performing flawlessly with the entire country – and most of the western world -watching every step of the way.
Endeavour will make the final flight of the shuttle program in the fall, flying ‘piggyback’ atop a NASA 747 SCA to Los Angeles International Airport. Considered the baby of the shuttle fleet, Endeavour will be transported through the city of Los Angeles to her new home at the California Science Center. Shuttle Atlantis will remain in Florida, where she will be put on display in a brand new facility currently being constructed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex early next year.