Discovery’s Final Flight

By Jessica L. Tozer

A specialized transporter brought the payload canister to Launch Pad 39A in preparation for the Discovery STS-131 mission. (Image Credit: NASA/Amanda Diller)

Today marks the end of an era, friends.  The space shuttle Discovery will rise early this morning and make one last trip.  The final journey?  From Florida to its new home at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

It’s been a long road from space to the Smithsonian, and the Discovery is getting ready to settle down in the world’s biggest aeronautical nursing home.

And she has certainly earned her retirement.

Discovery has flown more missions than any other shuttle – more than any other spacecraft, in fact. After 38 missions to date, and more than 5,600 trips around the Earth, Discovery has carried satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit and sent the Ulysses robotic probe on its way to the Sun. It was the first shuttle to rendezvous with the Russian Mir Space Station, and it delivered the Japanese Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station.

180 people have flown aboard Discovery, including the first female shuttle pilot and the first female shuttle commander (who happen to be the same person – Eileen Collins), the first African American spacewalker (Bernard Harris) and the first sitting member of congress to fly in space (Jake Garn).

The Discovery a seasoned government professional, and after years of service to her country, we’re saying goodbye in style.

Discovery will depart NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified Boeing 747, early this morning. Basically, she’s getting a piggyback ride to the final destination.  Not a lot of work for her but hey, she’s earned an easy ride if you ask me.  It is expected to fly over the Washington, D.C. area between 10:00 and 11:00 am and will then land at Washington Dulles International Airport.

If you’re in the Washington D.C. area, the Smithsonian has some neat ideas about where to go to catch a glimpse of the old girl as she rides on home, including the chance to watch Discovery land.

As the sun sets on this day, so does the space flight career of one of the most significant – and I think iconic – space shuttles of our time.  I have to say, it’s been great watching you fly.  The space program is forever changed, thanks to everything you’ve done, and I am grateful for the chance to have been a witness to it.  Thanks for everything, Discovery.

Welcome home.

Information for this article provided by NASA

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