When the Space Shuttle program was discontinued in the early years of the Obama administration, museums around the world scrambled for the right to receive and exhibit one of the four remaining shuttles. It seems highly appropriate that one of these unique spacecraft should find its final home at the prestigious Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (located in Virginia, close to Washington Dulles Airport, about a half hour’s drive from downtown DC).
Situated in a separate wing of the Udvar-Hazy Center with other relics of space travel (including an especially an impressive collection of satellites), the Shuttle is one of the Center’s prized exhibits. The shuttle Discovery is parked so that you can walk around it and study its design and construction. You can see its many details, like the individualized silicone tiles that protect it from heat as it re-enters the earth’s atmosphere, powerful engines, Canadian space arm, or the cargo bay doors.
The longest-serving orbiter, Discovery flew 39 times from 1984 through 2011 — more missions than any of its sister ships. In total, Discovery spent 365 days in space and among its highlights are:
– Deploying and later servicing the Hubble Space Telescope
– Delivering and retrieving a variety of satellites
– First non-astronaut to fly on a space shuttle, Charles Walker (1984)
– Flown by first African American commander (Frederick Gregory) and female commander (Eileen Collins)
– Made first docking with International Space Station (1999)
There’s a lot else to see at this fine museum, like the Anola Gay, a concord, and many historic aircraft. We’ll take a look at some of these in the near future.
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