Space Shuttle Discovery was carried atop NASA's modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft 905 for the ferry flight from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California to Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on August 19, 2005. The cross-country ferry flight to return Discovery to Florida after it's landing in California 10 days earlier to conclude the STS-114 shuttle mission. (NASA / Lori Losey) › View Larger Image
Space shuttle Discovery's flight career concluded Tuesday morning, April 17, when it was ferried from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Dulles International Airport in suburban Washington, D.C. aboard NASA Shuttle Carrier Aircraft 905.
The modified Boeing 747 carrier aircraft, which had served the shuttle program for more than 37 years, touched down at 11:05 a.m. EDT at Dulles, after making three low-level circuits of downtown Washington, D.C., to the delight of thousands of persons gathered on the National Mall and other locations in the nation's capital.
Discovery's final flight had begun some 3 ½ hours earlier when it departed Kennedy atop SCA 905, and included similar low-level flyovers of the center, the Florida Space Coast and the Orlando area before heading up the East Coast to Washington.
Discovery will be de-mated from the 747 over the next two days and be towed to the National Air and Space Museum's Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center, where it will be enshrined in a permanent public exhibit in tribute to the more than three-decade Space Shuttle Program. A public arrival ceremony is planned for Thursday, April 19.
The prototype space shuttle Enterprise, which has been on display at the NASM's Udvar-Hazy Center since 1985, will be mounted on the carrier aircraft this weekend. Enterprise is scheduled to be ferried to New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport on Monday, April 23, and will be barged at a later date to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum - its final home.
Discovery flew more missions in low-Earth orbit than any of the other shuttles – 39 in all – beginning with STS-41D in August – September 1984 and concluding with STS-133 in February – March 2011. It flew more than 148 million miles in space on some of the most significant missions of the 135-mission Space Shuttle Program.
Of those 39 missions, 24 landed at the Kennedy Space Center from where it launched, while another 15 touched down at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, necessitating ferry flights aboard one of NASA's two modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft to return it to is home base. Photos in this feature depict four of those ferry missions aboard NASA 905, the remaining Shuttle Carrier Aircraft that will carry Discovery to its final destination.
Space Shuttle Discovery rides atop NASA 905, one of NASA's two modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, on its delivery flight from California to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 1983. Once at Kennedy, Discovery was prepared for its first orbital mission, STS-41-D that launched on Aug. 30, 1984 and concluded on Sept. 5 that year. (NASA Photo) › View Larger Image
Discovery was kept busy upon entering service, flying six of the next nine shuttle missions over a yearlong period. Most of those early missions involved placing satellites into or retrieving them from orbit. The last of that series, mission 51-I in August – September 1985, saw the retrieval, repair and re-deployment of the LEASAT IV-F3 satellite during a dramatic two-hour spacewalk by Discovery's mission specialists.
Discovery was the go-to orbiter when the decision to resume shuttle flights after the Challenger disaster in early 1986 put the program on hold for more than 2 ½ years. The four-day STS-26 mission placed a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) into space.
One of Discovery's most historic missions occurred in April 1990, when it deployed the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit during the STS-31 mission. The famed telescope has provided extraordinary visible-light views of the universe never before seen by human eyes.
Although deployment of satellites continued to be a major function of Discovery's missions in the 1990s, many of its missions were devoted to a wide range of environmental and space science experiments conducted in both its mid-deck area and in special laboratories nestled in its payload bay.
In 1995, NASA's first woman shuttle pilot – Air Force Col. Eileen Collins – flew Discovery during the first rendezvous and fly-around of the Russian space station Mir during the STS-63 mission.
The STS-82 mission in 1997 saw Discovery's crew upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope's capabilities by installing two new state-of-the-art instruments and perform maintenance to keep the telescope operating smoothly during four Extra-Vehicular Activity spacewalks.
Discovery made history again in 1998 when Mercury 7 astronaut and former U.S. Senator John Glenn flew aboard the STS-95 mission at the age of 77. The flight also marked the first time that a U.S. president – Bill Clinton - attended a shuttle launch, although President Ronald Reagan had attended the fourth landing of the shuttle Columbia at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base on July 4, 1982.
Discovery followed that up on the STS-96 mission just under a year later when it made the first docking with the first modules of the International Space Station, the construction and support of which would become the primary focus of most shuttle missions throughout the remainder of the shuttle program.
NASA 905, one of NASA's two modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, climbs out after takeoff from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on Nov. 2, 2000 with the space shuttle orbiter Discovery on its back. Discovery was ferried from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, after landing at Edwards on Oct. 24, 2000 to conclude shuttle mission STS-92. (NASA / Tony Landis) › View Larger Image
With the loss of Columbia and its crew in the STS-107 accident in early 2003, Discovery was again tabbed to be the Return-to-Flight vehicle when shuttle flights resumed on the STS-114 mission to the space station in July 2005. Much of that mission, along with the follow-up STS-121 mission a year later, was devoted to testing out new hardware and repair techniques for the Shuttles' Thermal Protection Systems while in orbit.
Over the next six years, the missions of Discovery and its two remaining companions, Atlantis and Endeavour and their crews would be focused almost entirely on completing construction and outfitting of the International Space Station, a task that no other space vehicle present or future could accomplish due to the size and mass of the station's components.
Discovery's roster of accomplishments over its lifetime was closed out on mission STS-133 in early 2011 with a virtually flawless 13-day flight to attach a new module to the International Space Station and help the residents there outfit the orbiting laboratory for continued research. It touched returned from space for the last time as its wheels kissed the runway at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility on March 9, 2011.
Over the course of the next year, Discovery underwent decommissioning work and preparation for its final flight – an unpowered ferry flight aboard Shuttle Carrier Aircraft 905 to its new home at the Udvar-Hazy center. Though its operational days are over, it will continue to inspire space aficionados and the next generation of explorers in its new role for decades to come - to look to the heavens, to accomplish great things, to achieve their dreams.
Read late details about Discovery's final ferry flight.
Learn more about the Space Shuttle Era.
View spectacular photos of Discovery's 39 space missions.
NASA's modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft 905 with Space Shuttle Discovery on top lifts off from Edwards Air Force Base to begin its ferry flight back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on August 19, 2005, 10 days after Discovery landed at Edwards to conclude the STS-114 Return-to-Flight shuttle mission. (NASA / Carla Thomas) › View Larger Image