17 April 2012

Space Shuttle Discovery’s Final Flight Over DC

People between-the-beltways were treated to the sight of the retired Space Shuttle Discovery on its final flight to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport.  The Discovery was the most traveled space shuttle, having made 39 missions which totaled over one service year in space.

Many Washingtonians took a break before 10 am to see this fond farewell to flight by Discovery. The Discovery was piggy backed on top of a modified 747 jet on its trip from the Kennedy Space Center to Washington.  But it was not a direct point by point flight.  The Space Shuttle made several dramatic pass overs Washington, to fly by the Monuments on the National Mall, the NASA headquarters and Capitol Hill before landing at Dulles.

The flight was a bittersweet moment, as crowds spontaneously applauded when seeing the Space Shuttle, which had served the American manned space program for 27 years.  But it is sad to think that NASA does not have a replacement manned space craft ready.  So American space interests need to be served through Russian Soyuz spacelifts from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the foreseeable future.

These triumphant pictures of the Space Shuttle flying by national landmarks will have an iconic appeal. It seems fitting that there are be photos of the Space Shuttle flying by the  White House, as the Obama Administration has effectively scrubbed the American Manned Space Program.

Now NASA can concentrate on helping Muslims feel better about their contributions to math and science. But on the bright side, Space X is a private American company which is set to make its first payload mission to the International Space Station on April 30th.

These final flights of the Space Shuttle are also a reminder of the politics of allocating NASA museum pieces.  The Atlantis will remain at Cape Canaveral, Washington was a natural pick.  New York and Los Angeles were also chosen to receive Space Shuttles.  Yet Houston, which has hosted the Johnson Mission Control Center for half a century was shut out, as decision makers seemed to be seeing red on electoral maps.

 Next week, the Smithsonian Institution will relinquish the Enterprise, the engine-less prototype Space Shuttle to New York City’s Intrepid Space-Air-Sea Museum, which will build a $100 million hanger for it.  This piggy back Enterprise flight ought to be better received than Air Force One’s joy ride over Manhattan in 2009 which created a panic by stunned spectators.

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