Discovery, the world’s most well-traveled space shuttle, landed at Washington Dulles International Airport Tuesday morning to begin a well-deserved retirement.
Because of an early arrival, the 747 jet carrying Discovery made three extra loops around the region at an altitude of about 1,500 feet. That gave thousands of onlookers in Alexandria, Chantilly and Herndon a longer look at the historic final flight.
According to NASA, Discovery flew 39 missions during its 26-year history and covered nearly 149 million miles. A number of its missions were associated with technological and scientific achievements, including placement of the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit in 1990. Discovery is known for several historic achievements. The first African-American commander, Frederick Gregory, flew the craft in 1989. In 1995, the orbiter was flown by the first female pilot of a spacecraft, Eileen Collins, who later commanded a 2005 Discovery mission. In 1998 Sen. John Glenn, at 77, flew on the spacecraft in a return to space, having made history in 1962 as the first American to orbit the Earth in Friendship 7. Following the Challenger and Columbia tragedies, Discovery was chosen to re-initiate spaceflight.
Discovery will be towed to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles.
“As part of the Smithsonian collection, Discovery will bring a richer perspective to the historical and scientific significance of the space-shuttle program, one of our country’s greatest achievements,” said Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian.