As the space shuttle Discovery towed into the hangar at the Smithsonian’s Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport, only a few members of the public and press remained to see her final motion.
The tow vehicle, beeping while moving backward, tugged Discovery into place in fits and starts, her arrival crew making sure she was aligned perfectly on the floor. One final movement forward and the United Space Alliance team member signaled to the tow vehicle to shut down yelling, “That’s it!” There were scattered hollers and applause, and then silence.
It felt like it should have been a more familiar and official phrase, spoken after every shuttle landing: “Houston, Discovery. Wheels stopped. Welcome home.”
Astronaut Alan Poindexter, once commander of Discovery on STS-131, walked past her and said heavily, “She looks great, but she’s in the wrong hangar.”
The week was full of both excitement and heavy hearts as the one time daily pride of thousands of NASA workers became the proud new attraction for the residents of the Washington, DC area. They embraced her with thrilled oohs and ahs during her flyover and cheers as she moved over to the museum flanked by rows of astronauts and shuttle workers.
After landing on Tuesday, April 17, Discovery taxied to a spot at Dulles Airport called Apron W, where she waited through a rainy night and day to be detached from the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft that has transported over 200 shuttles during their time of active service.
Having seen five launches of Discovery and spending many, many hours inside her cockpit photographing high resolution 360 imagery for National Geographic (See: National Geographic Spaceflight HD) it was unusual to see her outside of her Florida home, sitting with the familiar tower of Dulles Airport behind her.
But as much as we’ll miss spending time in the crew module and talking with technicians as they work on her, it will be nice to have her in our backyard and be able to visit her often.
Welcome home, Discovery.
Coverage by Jon Brack and Susan Poulton
– Zoom View: Space Shuttle Discovery in Udvar-Hazy Hangar