Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Discovery on its last trip across America

Flying past the VAB in Florida.

Yesterday the shuttle Discovery was carried by its Boeing 747 transporter from Florida to its new home in Washington, D.C. Millions of people across the eastern seaboard of America turned out to watch the giant pair soar low across the cities and towns for one last time together. Discovery's new home will be at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where it will continue to be seen by millions of future visitors. While their trip in the air started from the 5-mile runway at Cape Canaveral, their adventure started days before in a delicate maneuver to attach the heavy shuttle to the back of the 747.

Discovery and the new Orion at Cape Canaveral.

Before the trip, the shuttle was made safe for viewing and certain parts removed for reuse or storage elsewhere. For example, the three main engines were removed and replaced with perfect replicas. For a short time, Discovery shared the same hangar as the Orion test Capsule, and in the picture above you can see the hand off from the old program to the future program. OK, maybe I'm still reaching.

Once the shuttle was ready, it was moved to the runway where it was hoisted by a giant gantry built just for this purpose. Usually, the shuttle is removed at this location after being flown to Florida from the Edwards AFB in case of a California desert landing. This time, the shuttle was gently hoisted up into the structure.

The hoist is readied for lifting.

Discovery's well-traveled nose.

Windows shuttered and all packaged up, Discovery was lifted up over 5 stories so the 747 would be able to drive underneath. Looking at Discovery's nose, you can still see the effects of the last re-entry through the Earth's atmosphere on its voyage home. I don't know if the Museum will leave it in that condition of restore it to a clean state. Eventually the 747 arrived and moved toward the gantry.

Cometh the Giant.

NASA has two giant 747 aircraft refitted to carry the shuttles. The first one was used in early experiments with USS Enterprise to test the orbiter's flying and landing capabilities. Bit of trivia: One of those Enterprise pilots testing the shuttle landings was astronaut Fred Haise, who survived the incredible Apollo 13 mission with Jim Lovell and Jack Swigert. For this trip, NASA pilots would do all the flying.

Steady... steady...

With the Jumbo Jet in place, the shuttle was gently lowered onto the adapters and secured for the voyage. Yesterday morning the pair lifted off the long runway at Kennedy Space Center. I can envision the highways covered with cars and people applauding and cheering their last view of this great shuttle flying through the air once again.

Last earthly docking of the space ship Discovery.

A more gentle liftoff.
Credit: Justin Ray/SpaceFlight Now
Read more about the shuttle and this trip :

On approach to Dulles International airport at Washington, D.C.
Credit: Clara Moskowitz/
Read her article on

With the shuttle now safely on the ground, it will be towed to its new home at the museum, while we watch re-runs and videos of what once was.

Discovery in orbit with cargo bay doors open and robotic arm extended. Picture from the ISS.

NASA officials, Senator Leahy, and the crew of the 747 SCA
(Shuttle Carrier Aircraft)

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