Space shuttle Discovery is to have one last flight – piggybacking on a NASA aircraft to its final home at the Smithsonian Museum.
According to NASA, it should be visible as it flies over the city at around 10.00 on April 17, at an altitude of around 1,500 feet.
Discovery will sit on top of a specially modified Boeing 747 known as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA – essentially a passenger jet which has been hollowed out. Even with drastic weight reduction measures, though, the plane will still need twice as much fuel as usual.
The SCA, NASA 905, arrived at the Kennedy Space Center yesterday. NASA’s scouted out a route for the aircraft that will see it passing over landmarks such as the National Mall, Reagan National Airport, National Harbor and the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center – the shuttle’s final home.
First launched in 1984, space shuttle Discovery clocked up a full year in space, traveling nearly 150 million miles.
It’s now been prepared for its new career as a museum exhibit. All hazardous materials have been removed, and certain components, including its three engines, have been replaced with replicas – in case the originals are required again in future.
Discovery will replace Enterprise, which has been on display at the museum since 2003. Enterprise will now be moved – atop the same SCA – to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan.