Video: Discovery Makes Final Flight

Shuttle heads to D.C. for placement at the Smithsonian.

Discovery Shuttle

Discovery Shuttle

** The Discovery shuttle leaves Cape Canaveral
aboard the back of the modified Boeing 747
that first brought it to Florida in 1983.**

NASA’s Discovery shuttle took off from Kennedy Space Center aboard the back of a modified Boeing 747 on Tuesday for one final departure from Cape Canaveral as it heads for its resting place at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Close to 2,000 spectators coalesced near the runway to bid NASA’s oldest shuttle farewell and witness the spacecraft’s daybreak takeoff.

After departure, the 747 carrying Discovery, the same carrier aircraft that first brought it to Florida in 1983, headed south temporarily to the delight of countless enthusiasts who gathered along the Space Coast beaches to catch a final glimpse of the spacecraft. It then returned north, executing a final fly-over at the Space Center before making the remainder of its trip to the D.C. area and Dulles International Airport.

On Wednesday, NASA will use large cranes to unload Discovery and prepare the shuttle for movement into the Udvar-Hazy Center at the Smithsonian, where it will be ushered into the museum’s collection on Thursday with a parade and commemorative ceremony.

There it will be remembered for its many unique feats, which include the launch of the Hubble telescope into space, the return-to-space flights following the Challenger and Columbia tragedies, and completion of the first mission involving a female shuttle pilot, just to name a few.

Through the course of its nearly 30-decade tenure, Discovery completed 39 missions, more than any other member of the shuttle fleet. It covered more than 148 million miles during that time frame, spent an entire year in space and docked with the International Space Station more than a dozen times.

For space enthusiasts, that storied history makes Discovery’s final journey all the more bittersweet.

NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, who flew with Discovery on its final flight in March 2011, expressed her feeling at seeing the shuttle leave Cape Canaveral in a recent NASA press release.

“This is the place where people have really taken care of Discovery for its entire life…Discovery’s leaving home and starting a new life somewhere else.”

Discovery is the first of the three retired shuttles to head to a museum. Endeavor will leave Kennedy Space Center this fall and head to Los Angeles, while Atlantis will remain in Florida.