CHANTILLY, Va. — NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery is set to land in Washington in April, where the now retired fleet leader — the world’s most flown spacecraft — will be welcomed by the Smithsonian Institution during a four-day public festival, museum officials said Feb. 28.
Flying from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a modified Boeing 747 jetliner, Discovery is scheduled to touch down at Dulles International Airport on April 17, weather permitting. It will then be offloaded by crane and towed to the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center two days later.
NASA retired Discovery and its two sister space shuttles, Atlantis and Endeavour, last summer after 30 years of service.
Taking the place of NASA’s prototype shuttle Enterprise, which has been on exhibit at the Udvar-Hazy Center since the museum opened in December 2003, Discovery will be displayed as the centerpiece of the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar surrounded by hundreds of other NASA and space artifacts.
Discovery’s arrival at the museum will culminate in its title being formally transferred by NASA to the Smithsonian, followed by a grand finale that will symbolize the “launch” of Discovery’s new career — “from champion of the shuttle fleet to American icon and educational treasure,” according to a Smithsonian statement.
“When NASA transfers Discovery to the National Air and Space Museum, the American people will gain a major icon of space history and an educational treasure to be valued now and for years to come,” museum director J.R. “Jack” Dailey said in a statement. “We invite the public to help us welcome Discovery to the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.”
If all proceeds as planned, Discovery will arrive in the Washington area around midmorning April 17. On the way to Dulles, it will fly over parts of the Washington metropolitan area. However, the exact path will be weather-contingent and for security reasons will not be publicized far in advance.
As Discovery flies up the East Coast, the Smithsonian is inviting the public to “Spot the Shuttle” and share their sightings using social media networks and the Web. Photos can be posted to the museum’s Flickr and Facebook pages as well as on Twitter using the hashtag #SpotTheShuttle.
People who spot Discovery will be able to register on the museum’s website for a chance to win VIP seating at the “Welcome Discovery” ceremony April 19.
There will be no public access to see Discovery land at the airport, but arrangements are being made to broadcast the arrival online and through media coverage.
Instead, the best place to view Discovery as it makes its final approach into Dulles will be the parking lot at the Udvar-Hazy Center itself, museum officials said. The lot will open early and visitors are invited to join fellow shuttle spotters.
After Discovery touches down at Dulles, it will be taken to another area of the airport, where it will be lifted by cranes off the 747 carrier aircraft and made ready for towing to the museum. That process will take two days.
The Smithsonian will kick off its four-day “Welcome Discovery” festival with a parade April 19. Led by the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and featuring an astronaut escort representing the shuttle’s historic flights, Discovery will be towed to the Udvar-Hazy Center and parked outside next to Enterprise.
The formal title transfer ceremony will feature Dailey, Smithsonian secretary Wayne Clough and a representative from NASA. Mezzo soprano Denyce Graves will perform the national anthem, and astronauts who launched on Discovery’s most historic missions will be introduced during a presentation on the orbiter’s achievements.
Discovery will then move into the museum as Enterprise heads off to Dulles. Enterprise will be flown to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York.
The “Welcome Discovery” festival will continue with activities devoted to students April 20, followed by a family weekend April 21-22 to feature hands-on demonstrations and the opportunity to autograph a shuttle tire for future display.
It will take NASA technicians and Smithsonian curators approximately two weeks to prepare Discovery for display once inside the museum. During that time, the public will be able to view the shuttle from the hangar’s entrance and from a balcony running the length of the orbiter.
Robert Z. Pearlman is editor of collectSPACE.com