Discovery Shuttle Makes Final Flight

discovery shuttle
WASHINGTON – The shuttle Discovery took a stunning curtain call Tuesday, wowing onlookers across the nation's capital as the retired orbiter took its last flight, hitching a ride atop a modified Boeing 747, from Florida to its new home at the National Air and Space Museum.

Eager shuttle-watchers gathered on the National Mall, at parks, restaurants, office balconies and bridges with cameras and cellphones in hand, children on shoulders and eyes lifted to the sky.

"I tell you, it made the tears come. I stood there for three or four seconds and just began crying," said Patricia Rensch of Arlington, Va.

On Thursday, Discovery will be officially welcomed at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. It will meet briefly, nose-to-nose, with the test shuttle Enterprise, which is leaving to go on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.

Discovery is the first of three orbiters entering retirement. Atlantis will stay in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and Endeavour is promised to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

In Florida, thousands came out to the Shuttle Landing Facility and thousands more crowded the beaches and roadways to bid farewell.

The piggybacked vehicles took off at 7 a.m., where nearly 2,000 paying and invited guests gathered. They flew south to Patrick Air Force Base, then looped north to give the Space Coast a chance to say goodbye.

Discovery, the longest-serving orbiter in NASA's shuttle fleet, completed 39 missions, spent 365 days in space, orbited the Earth 5,830 times and traveled 148,221,675 miles.

Above Washington, Discovery flew low over the U.S. Capitol and monuments. The shuttle made three passes over the National Mall, according to Bill Rieke, one of the pilots aboard the 747.

Leslie Randolph, who lives in Washington, was driving over the 14th Street Bridge when the shuttle flew over.

"I pulled over and stepped out of the car," she said. "It was breathtaking. Totally awesome. Beyond belief."

After a flyover of Dulles International Airport, the jet carrying the shuttle circled once more to land, touching down at 11:05 a.m.

Nearby, 10-year-old Claire Jonas of Herndon, Va., stood with her mother, Melissa, holding a "Welcome Discovery" sign. Claire had been in Florida to watch Discovery blast off on its last mission, making Tuesday's landing extra special.

"It was really cool," she said. "It was so big."

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