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Space Shuttle Discovery mounted on 747 for ride to Smithsonian (+video)

The retired Space Shuttle Discovery is now sitting on top of NASA's modified jumbo jet, in preparation for its delivery to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

By Robert Z. PearlmanSPACE.com / April 16, 2012

The space shuttle Discovery is attached to a modified NASA 747 aircraft at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Monday. Discovery is expected to be flown to its final home at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia on Tuesday.

Joe Skipper/Reuters

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NASA mounted space shuttle Discovery on a jumbo jet Sunday (April 15), in preparation for the retired orbiter's delivery to the Smithsonian. The paired air- and spacecraft are expected to depart Florida for Washington, D.C., on Tuesday morning (April 17), weather permitting.

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The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off for the last time on February 24, 2011.

Discovery's mating to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), NASA's modified Boeing 747 jetliner, came a day later than the space agency had planned. On Saturday, wind gusts at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility set the 167,000 pound (75,300 kilogram) Discovery swaying under its lift sling, posing a risk that it could impact the Mate Demate Device (MDD), the gantry-like steel structure used to hoist the shuttle onto the jetliner.

Workers reconvened at 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT) on Sunday, to finish retracting the shuttle's landing gear. They then raised the orbiter 60 feet (18 meters) off the ground so that the carrier aircraft could be positioned underneath. Discovery was then lowered onto the jumbo jet's three protruding attach points to achieve a "soft" mating.

Work continued throughout the day Sunday to secure, or "hard" mate, Discovery to the 747, before removing the hoist sling and backing the paired vehicles out of the MDD on Monday morning. [How Space Shuttles Fly on 747 Jets (Photos)]

Emotional ending

"Assuming the weather is good, we'll back out [of the Mate-Demate Device] in the morning, That will give a whole day of opportunity for the media, the public, and for our employees to come out and get a good view of Discovery's last time on top of a 747 here at Kennedy Space Center," said Stephanie Stilson, flow director for the transition and retirement for the space shuttle orbiters. [Gallery: Discovery Mated to Jumbo Jet]

Among the space program workers expected to come out and view Discovery on Monday are the members of its 39th and final spaceflight, the six astronauts who flew the STS-133 mission in March 2011.

According to Stilson, who also led the ground processing for Discovery's last 11 missions, seeing it be readied for one last ferry flight was eliciting mixed feelings.

"It's hard not to be happy, because we have achieved another one of our goals," Stilson told collectSPACE.com. "That is how we look at things. We have a job to do, and that is to get Discovery to the Smithsonian. So this is the next step to get there. So we're very happy because everything has gone well to get to this point."

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