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Space Shuttle Discovery to swoop over National Mall (+video)

Perched atop a modified jumbo jet, the retired Space Shuttle Discovery will fly over Washington before arriving at its permanent resting place at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

By Marcia DunnAP Aerospace Writer / April 16, 2012

Members of the media photograph the Space Shuttle Discovery attached to a modified NASA 747 aircraft at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Monday, 2012. 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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Cape Canaveral, Florida

Space shuttle Discovery has one last mission to complete.

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At daybreak Tuesday, the oldest of NASA's retired shuttle fleet will leave its home at Kennedy Space Center for the final time, riding on top a modified jumbo jet.

Its destination: the Smithsonian Institution's hangar outside Washington, D.C.

The plane and jet will make a farewell flight over Cape Canaveral before heading north. The pair also will swoop over the nation's capital, including the National Mall, before landing in Virginia.

Space center workers arrived by the busloads Monday at the old shuttle landing strip, where the jet was parked with Discovery bolted on top. Security officers, firefighters, former shuttle workers and even astronauts all posed for pictures in front of Discovery.

The six astronauts who flew Discovery's final space trip a year ago were on hand to bid Discovery goodbye.

Discovery first launched in 1984 and flew 39 times in space, more than any other shuttle. It is the oldest of NASA's three surviving space shuttles and the first to head to a museum.

It will go on display at the Smithsonian's hangar at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, replacing Enterprise, the shuttle prototype that never made it to space but was used in landing tests in the late 1970s. Enterprise is bound for New York City's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

"It's good to see her one more time, and it's great that Discovery is going to a good home. Hopefully, millions of people for many, many years to come will go see Discovery," said Steven Lindsey, the last astronaut to command Discovery. "It's also sad ... it's sad to see that the program is over."

NASA ended the shuttle program last summer after 30 years to focus on destinations beyond low-Earth orbit. Lindsey, no longer with NASA, now works in the commercial space industry, helping to develop a successor for launching American astronauts to the International Space Station.

Stephanie Stilson, a NASA manager who is heading up the transition and retirement of the three remainingshuttles, said Discovery looked as though it had just arrived from a ferry trip from the backup landing site in California, as it did so many times in years past.

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