In a stunning tour of the Washington Metropolitan Area today, the Space Shuttle Discovery made its final “flight” piggybacked atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft–a modified Boeing 747. The Discovery, which left Kennedy Space Center this morning, arrived in the Washington area a few hours later, making several flybys over Washington and the Northern Virginia area before landing at Dulles International Airport as thousands of spectators (including this FORA.tv writer) took pictures:
Beginning this week, the Discovery will become the centerpiece exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, replacing the shuttle Enterprise. New Yorkers will enjoy a similar treat (weather permitting) on Monday, April 23, as the Enterprise is carried from Dulles to John F. Kennedy International Airport. The Enterprise will then be loaded onto a barge and moved up the Hudson River to its new home at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum docked at Pier 86 in New York City.
The shuttle Atlantis will stay in its current location at Kennedy Space Center as part of a new 65,000 square foot complex called the Space Shuttle Plaza that is slated to open in 2013. The Endeavour, NASA’s fifth and final shuttle to be built, is currently being decommissioned and will arrive in Los Angeles for display at the California Science Center later this year.
These final flights are certainly bittersweet for NASA and the general public. While the legacy of the Space Shuttle program will live on in museums, the future of manned American spaceflight is as of yet unknown. Besides budget cuts–which doomed the shuttle’s successor, the Orion– an important issue NASA faces in the future is how to reinvent itself, particularly in the realm of innovation.