Space shuttle Discovery makes final takeoff
April 17, 2012, Cape Canaveral, Fla. - After three decades of space service, NASA's oldest and most travelled shuttle, Discovery, began its new life as a museum relic Tuesday with one final takeoff.
Discovery departed Florida's Kennedy Space Center at daybreak Tuesday aboard a modified jumbo jet bound for Washington, where it will become a Smithsonian exhibit.
Nearly 2,000 people — former shuttle workers, VIPs, tourists and journalists — gathered along the old shuttle landing strip to see Discovery off. A cheer went up as the plane taxied down the runway and took off into a clear sky.
The plane and shuttle headed south and made one last flight over the beaches of Cape Canaveral — thousands jammed the shore for a glimpse of Discovery — then returned to the space centre in a final
salute. Cheers erupted once more as the pair came in low over the runway it had left 20 minutes earlier and finally turned toward the north.
A similar flyover was planned over the monuments in the nation's capital, later in the morning.
Discovery — the fleet leader with 39 space missions — is the first of the three retired space shuttles to head to a museum. It will go on display at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, taking the place of the shuttle prototype Enterprise. The Enterprise will go to New York City.
Endeavour will head to Los Angeles this fall. Atlantis will remain at Kennedy.
NASA ended the shuttle program last summer after a 30-year run to focus on destinations beyond low-Earth orbit. Private U.S. companies hope to pick up the slack, beginning with space station cargo and then, hopefully, astronauts. The first commercial cargo run, by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is set to take place in just
another few weeks.