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.
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"To see her like this is quite an amazing sight," Stilson said. "We're finally here" almost an exact year since Discovery launched and landed for good, she noted.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Space photos of the day: Space Shuttle Discovery
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Discovery's list of achievements include delivering the Hubble Space Telescope to orbit, carrying the first Russian cosmonaut to launch on a U.S. spaceship, performing the first rendezvous with the Russian spacestation Mir with the first female shuttle pilot in the cockpit, returning Mercury astronaut John Glenn to orbit, and bringing shuttle flights back to life after the Challenger and Columbia accidents.
A white tail cone covers the three replica main engines at the back end of Discovery, to keep them safe during the ferry flight and provide for better aerodynamics. (Only the nozzles are there, no massive power assemblies.)
The original air lock is on board that spacewalking astronauts used to step out into the vacuum; Discovery is the only shuttle keeping one because it's considered the spacecraft of historic record. The robot arm is already in Virginia and will be placed on side-by-side display.
NASA spent the past year draining all toxic fuels from Discovery and removing unnecessary plumbing.
Stilson said she's managed to keep her emotions in check by staying busy. She's one of the luckier ones; thousands of shuttle workers have lost their jobs.
Astronaut Nicole Stott had "mixed feelings" as she gazed up at Discovery. "There's no denying the sadness associated with it," said Stott, who was on Discovery's last crew.
The newer shuttle Endeavour is promised to the California Science Center in Los Angeles; it ships out in September. Shuttle Atlantis will remain at Kennedy; a huge display area is in works at the visitor complex.
With the shuttles retired, U.S. astronauts are hitching big-bucks rides on Russian Soyuz rockets to get to thespace station. A variety of private American companies are vying for astronaut transportation rights. Officials expect it to be another five years or so before the new spacecraft will be ready to carry passengers.
One of the main competitors, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. or SpaceX, is due to launch its Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral on April 30 with an unprecedented trip to the space station. It will be the first time a private company makes such a cargo run.
Station managers met with SpaceX officials Monday to review the status of the flight.