Yesterday, the Space Shuttle Discovery arrived in Washington D.C. to be brought to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum, where it will be exposed.
The Space Shuttle can’t fly like an airplane and technically it’s the orbiter which was being transported because actually the expression Space Shuttle indicates the complete launch system, meaning the orbiter, the boosters and the external tank.
To transport the orbiter they used one of two existing Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). Those are two Boeing 747 airplanes modified to carry the Space Shuttle orbiter on their top.
In the course of many missions of the Space Shuttle it happened that the landing would take place in a track different from the Shuttle Landing Facility that is part of the Kennedy Space Center, making it necessary the use of an airplane that could carry the orbiter back to its based in Florida.
One of the two SCAs is registered as N905NA, the other as N911NA. The Space Shuttle Discovery was transported from the Kennedy Space Center to Washington D.C. by the first SCA.
Yesterday, the population of the area around the city of Washington D.C. enjoyed a remarkable show watching the Space Shuttle Discovery carried by the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Before landing at Dulles International Airport, the Discovery was taken to a long ride over the city to allow the crowd that had gathered to watch it. Many photographs were taken and NASA collected a large amount in a special online album.
The Space Shuttle Discovery completed its last space mission on March 9, 2011 and will now be exposed as a museum piece. For people like me who grew up following the Space Shuttles missions it’s a sad moment. However, the enormous interest shown by the people and witnessed on social media proves that there’s still interest in space missions.
Unfortunately, after the end of the Space Shuttle program, only the Russian Soyuz spacecrafts remain to operate flights to the International Space Station but by the end of the month a flight of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to reach the International Space Station and that could really open the road to commercial spaceflights. Let’s hope that a new era in space travel can begin!