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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.

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"But then, when I start to think about the fact that this is last time to do this with Discovery, it is sad," she continued. "It is not something that we want to have as a last opportunity. But that's part of the job, that is where we are with the program and the way things are going."

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"So I'm just going to enjoy it, be happy and allow myself to really see the team at their best. Even if this is one of the last times we do it, at least they're doing it to the best of their ability, very professional, very dedicated and who can't be happy about that? It's a great experience," Stilson said.

Final ferry flight

Discovery's mating with the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft marked a final reunion for the space shuttle and jumbo jet. The same aircraft was used to first deliver Discovery to the Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 9, 1983.

In the three decades since, Discovery was paired with this Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905, for 14 out of its 18 ferry flights.

"This is something we have done many times before," said Stilson. "We have the same exact Mate-Demate Device out in California at the Dryden Flight Research Center so if we landed out west, we would go through the same process to get the orbiter that landed out there back home to Kennedy. And then, when we used to do maintenance periods out in California, we would load up from here [in Florida] and then ferry out to Palmdale."

Two large cranes will take the place of the Mate-Demate Device when the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft arrives with Discovery at Washington Dulles International Airport on Tuesday (April 17).

After a day spent offloading the orbiter, NASA and the Smithsonian will hold an arrival ceremony on Thursday (April 19) when Discovery will be rolled over to the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located adjacent to the airport.

Visit shuttles.collectspace.com for continuing coverage of the delivery and display of NASA's retired space shuttles.

Follow collectSPACE on Facebook and Twitter @collectSPACE and editor Robert Pearlman @robertpearlman. Copyright 2012 collectSPACE.com. All rights reserved.

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