CHANTILLY, Va. — After 39 trips in space and roughly half a billion miles, the space shuttle Discovery’s final journey will end in the D.C. area, arriving at Dulles International Airport before heading off to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
Weather permitting, the space shuttle will be transported from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center April 17.
The approach itself will provide quite a scene around the region, as the Discovery will ride piggy-back style on a modified Boeing 747.
While its flight path cannot be determined this far in advance, organizers suggest the Udvar-Hazy Center as a prime spot to stakeout the approach.
“This will be the last time that this shuttle will fly, so what they’ll be seeing is really a historic occasion,” says Claire Brown, the communications director at the National Air and Space Museum.
It takes nearly two days to de-mate the shuttle from the plane and get it to the museum.
Organizers have a four-day festival planned beginning April 19, featuring several astronauts and special exhibits.
“Discovery is really the champion of the shuttle fleet,” says Valerie Neal, the space shuttle curator at the National Air and Space Museum.
“It was the first shuttle to be commanded by an African American. [The] first shuttle to be flown by both women commanders. It launched the Hubble Space Telescope.”
The Discovery is the longest-serving orbiter, first flying in 1984. It has spent a total of 365 days in space during its service.