Smithsonian Planning Historic Welcoming For Shuttle Discovery

Space shuttle Discovery atop launch pad 39A on the eve of her final launch, STS-133.  Photo Credit: Mike Killian

Space shuttle Discovery atop launch pad 39A on the eve of her final launch, STS-133. Photo Credit: Mike Killian

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is inviting the public to a nearly week long celebration to welcome space shuttle Discovery to her new home at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center this spring.

Discovery, NASA’s fleet leading space shuttle, flew her last space mission in February 2011 – ending a decorated career which spanned 27 years, with over 148 million miles travelled over the course of 39 missions.  Now retired from service along with sister orbiters Endeavour and Atlantis, Discovery has spent the last year preparing for permanent public display as a museum piece at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia.

Discovery’s decommissioning progress at Kennedy Space Center in Florida is almost complete, and recently the Smithsonian released details regarding events planned to welcome the shuttle to her new home this spring.

Shuttle Discovery's tail cone is already for the orbiter's flight from Kennedy Space Center to Dulles International Airport in April - a sign that her time in Florida is close to coming to an end after nearly 3 decades.  Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Shuttle Discovery's tail cone is already installed for the orbiter's flight from Kennedy Space Center to Dulles International Airport in April - a sign that her time in Florida is close to coming to an end after nearly 3 decades. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

As it stands right now, Discovery will ‘launch’ one final time atop a modified 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA, on the morning of April 17.  She is expected to arrive at Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. a few hours later.  Weather permitting, Discovery will announce her arrival by flying over areas of the D.C. metropolitan area, surely to the cheers of the thousands of people eager to welcome the most sophisticated vehicle mankind has ever created to its new home.  The exact flight path to be flown over D.C. will not be announced in advanced, although the Smithsonian will be updating its website and social media sites as Discovery approaches.

Shuttle Discovery mounted atop a NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA, at Edwards Air Force Base in California after the STS-128 mission in 2011.  Discovery will ride atop the SCA one last time on her one-way trip from KSC to the Smithsonian this spring.  Photo Credit: NASA

Shuttle Discovery mounted atop a NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA, at Edwards Air Force Base in California after the STS-128 mission in 2011. Discovery will ride atop the SCA one last time on her one-way trip from KSC to the Smithsonian this spring. Photo Credit: NASA

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.

Although the best place to watch Discovery on approach to the airport is the parking lot at the Udvar-Hazy Center, her touchdown itself will not be visible to spectators – plans are however being made to broadcast the landing on a giant screen in the parking lot.

Discovery thunders off pad 39A on her final mission, STS-133.  Photo Credit: Mike Killian

Discovery thunders off pad 39A on her final mission, STS-133. Photo Credit: Mike Killian

No events are planned for April 18, as the process of removing the orbiter from the top of her 747 transport takes two days to complete.

The ‘Welcome Discovery Celebration’ will take place April 19, where the shuttle will be transferred to her new home and placed on permanent display – replacing NASA’s prototype orbiter Enterprise, which performed test flights (specifically Approach and Landing Tests) in the atmosphere in the late 1970’s but was never capable of spaceflight.  Enterprise served an important role at the dawn of the shuttle program, paving the way for the other orbiters to fly to and from space safely.  Enterprise will be heading to its new home at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City in late April.

NASA's prototype shuttle Enterprise on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.  Discovery will replace Enterprise, and Enterprise will lair be flown to it's new home at the Intrepid Air, Sea, and Space museum in New York.  Photo Credit: Ad Meskens

NASA's prototype shuttle Enterprise on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Discovery will replace Enterprise, and Enterprise will be flown to its new home at the Intrepid Air, Sea, and Space museum in New York in late April. Photo Credit: Ad Meskens

Discovery and Enterprise will be positioned next to each other for the ceremony, nose-to-nose, allowing the public to take photos of the once in a lifetime event all afternoon following the ceremony.

“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.

Discovery seconds from landing after completing its final mission, STS-133.  Photo Credit: Alan Walters

Discovery seconds from landing after completing its final mission, STS-133. Photo Credit: Alan Walters

Discovery’s mission at the Smithsonian is simple, and will surely have a huge impact on those privileged to stand in her presence – to educate and inspire the public and explore the major scientific achievements she and her crews carried out.  With more than one million visitors each year walking through the doors of the National Air and Space Museum that should not be a problem.

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.

Discovery's flight deck.  The Smithsonian will not allow the public to go onboard the shuttle, and the same holds true for the other orbiters and their respective institutions.  Photo Credit: Mike Killian

Discovery's flight deck. The Smithsonian will not allow the public to go onboard the shuttle, and the same holds true for the other orbiters and their respective institutions. Photo Credit: Mike Killian

Following Discovery’s trip to D.C. will be shuttle Endeavour’s trip to the California Science Center in Los Angeles this coming fall, where she also will be put on permanent display as a museum piece to educate and inspire future generations – preserved as a national treasure, continuing to spark the imaginations of a nation and serve as a reminder of the great things we can accomplish when we all work towards a common goal.

With the shuttle fleet retired, it will be several years before NASA’s next manned space vehicle is ready to launch.  Commercial companies like SpaceX and Sierra Nevada have big plans for taking over LEO (low Earth orbit) activities to and from the International Space Station where the space shuttles left off, while NASA focuses on sending our astronauts further out than ever before – to the moon, to asteroids, and eventually Mars.

“We must never forget the accomplishments, the joy, the knowledge and the pride the shuttle program brought our country.  Human spaceflight survived in great part because of the shuttle program, and we’re in a good position today as a result to continue the innovations we started with shuttle and take them to the next level.  So, tomorrow is actually already under way”.  – NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

For more information regarding Discovery’s arrival at the Smithsonian this April, please visit their website .

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