Article & Photography by Joshua Eller | Owl Staff
Like any other day, thousands of people could be seen around the National Mall in Washington D.C., but today was different; these people did not stare at the monuments around them. They kept looking skyward, searching. Then out of the northwest, it appeared on the horizon, a 747 carrying the Space Shuttle Discovery on its back.
In a symbolic final flight, many came out to watch as the Discovery was flown one last time from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to its new home in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia. Along the way, Discovery would fly four times over Washington. It was like saying goodbye to an old friend watching as it passed over monuments including the Lincoln Memorial, U.S. Capitol, and the White House to mark the end of the 30-year program.
In its time, Discovery recorded a record 39 launches. It provided a platform for countless science experiments and helped to ferry crews to the International Space Station. Discovery was the shuttle that returned America to space following the tragic losses of both Challenger and Colombia. It even carried the Hubble Space Telescope into the heavens.
When asked about seeing Discovery go, Colonel Mike Mullane says, “It tugged on my heartstrings and soul to see it.” Mullane served on the crew onboard Discovery’s first flight in 1984. Since then, all three shuttles, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour have become more than just vehicles; they are symbols of America.
Danny Wallace, a Virginia citizen put it best when he explains, “It’s both a great and a sad day. I am happy, I finally was able to see the shuttle fly, but at the same time it’s sad because I know I will never see one fly again.” NASA estimates it will be at least another five years before an American spacecraft is ready to again carry astronauts into space. For now, American astronauts travel into space aboard Russian ships.
The Space Shuttle Discovery is now on display in its new permanent home at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. While the future of the space program may look dark right now as the Shuttle Program retires to a place of honor, one can’t lose hope that a brighter future waits just on the horizon to propel us to space once again.