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Smithsonian sets space shuttle arrival to 'Welcome Discovery' to DC

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum is planning a four day festival for the arrival of space shuttle Discovery. (SI)
February 28, 2012

— NASA's space shuttle Discovery is set to land in Washington, D.C. this April, where the now retired fleet leader — the world's most flown spacecraft — will be welcomed by the Smithsonian Institution during a four-day public festival, museum officials said on Tuesday (Feb. 28).

Flying from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a modified Boeing 747 jetliner, Discovery is scheduled to touch down at Washington Dulles International Airport on April 17, weather permitting. It will then be offloaded by crane and towed to the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, two days later.

Taking the place of NASA's prototype shuttle Enterprise, which has been on exhibit at the Udvar-Hazy Center since the museum opened in December 2003, Discovery will be displayed as the centerpiece of the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar surrounded by hundreds of other NASA and space artifacts.

Discovery's arrival at the museum will culminate in its title being formally transferred by NASA to the Smithsonian, followed by a "grand finale" that will symbolize the 'launch' of Discovery's new career – "from champion of the shuttle fleet to American icon and educational treasure," stated the Smithsonian in a release.

"When NASA transfers Discovery to the National Air and Space Museum, the American people will gain a major icon of space history and an educational treasure to be valued now and for years to come," museum director Gen. J.R. "Jack" Dailey said in a press release. "We invite the public to help us welcome Discovery to the collection of the Smithsonian Institution."

Spot the shuttle

If all proceeds as planned, Discovery will depart Kennedy Space Center on NASA's shuttle carrier aircraft, a Boeing 747, in the early morning of Tuesday, April 17. It will arrive in the Washington area around midmorning.

Space shuttle Discovery will be delivered to Dulles International Airport atop a modified Boeing 747, as seen here in 2005. (NASA)

On the way to Dulles, Discovery will fly over parts of the Washington metropolitan area, however the exact path will be weather-contingent and for security reasons will not be publicized far in advance.

On the day of Discovery's final journey, as it flies up the East Coast, the Smithsonian is inviting the public to "Spot the Shuttle" and share their sightings using social media networks and the web. Photographs can be posted to the museum's Flickr group and Facebook page, as well as on Twitter using the hashtag #SpotTheShuttle.

People who spot the Discovery will also be able to register on the museum's website for a chance to win VIP seating at the "Welcome Discovery" ceremony on April 19.

There will be no public access to see Discovery land at the airport, but arrangements are being made to broadcast the arrival on the web and through media coverage.

Instead, the best place to view Discovery as it makes its final approach into Dulles will be the parking lot at the Udvar-Hazy Center itself, museum officials said. The lot will open early and visitors are invited to BYOB — Bring Your Own Breakfast — to join fellow shuttle spotters.

Four-day festival

After Discovery touches down at Dulles, it will be taken to another area of the airport, where it will be lifted by cranes off the 747 carrier aircraft and made ready for towing to the museum. That process will take two days.

On Thursday, April 19, the Smithsonian will kick off a four day "Welcome Discovery" festival with a parade. Led by the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and featuring an astronaut escort representing the shuttle's historic flights, Discovery will be towed to the Udvar-Hazy Center and parked outside next to the prototype shuttle Enterprise.

The formal title transfer ceremony will feature Smithsonian secretary Wayne Clough, National Air and Space Museum director Dailey and a representative from NASA. Mezzo soprano Denyce Graves will perform the national anthem and astronauts who launched on Discovery's most historic missions will be introduced during a presentation on the orbiter's achievements.

Space shuttle Enterprise arriving at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in November 2003. (collectSPACE/D. Palermo)

Discovery will then move into the museum as Enterprise heads off to Dulles. Enterprise will be flown to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City, on a date soon to be announced.

The "Welcome Discovery" festival will continue through the next three days with activities devoted to students on Friday, April 20, followed by a family weekend to feature hands-on demonstrations and the chance to autograph a real shuttle tire for future display.

It will take NASA technicians and Smithsonian curators approximately two weeks to prepare Discovery for display once inside the museum. During that time, the public will be able to view the shuttle from the hangar's entrance and from a balcony running the length of the orbiter.

Fleet leader

Discovery, which throughout its flying career was NASA's fleet leader, is also leading the orbiters into retirement. It'll be the first of NASA's three space-flown shuttles to go on public display.

Discovery made its final spaceflight last year, landing on March 9, 2011. NASA's most-flown shuttle, it totaled more than a year in space over the course of its 39 missions flown since 1984.

Space shuttle Discovery, as seen in March 2011, landing at the Kennedy Space Center, completing its final mission. (NASA)

Among its achievements, Discovery deployed the Hubble Space Telescope, the solar probe Ulysses, and delivered the International Space Station's (ISS) largest laboratory, Japan's Kibo pressurized module. It also served twice as the "return to flight" vehicle after the losses of shuttles Challenger and Columbia in 1986 and 2003 respectively.

Since making its final return to Earth, Discovery has been undergoing preparations for its role as a museum exhibit. NASA technicians removed hazardous materials to make Discovery safe for display and retained components for study and reuse. From an exterior appearance, Discovery will look as it last flew, with the exception of its three main engines, which have been replaced by replicas.

Identified by NASA as its "shuttle of record," an effort was made to keep Discovery as close to the condition it was in when it landed. It was also the orbiter most thoroughly documented during its deservicing period.

After Discovery's delivery to the Udvar-Hazy Center, and Enterprise's arrival in New York, NASA will prepare to fly space shuttle Endeavour to Los Angeles for display at the California Science Center this fall. Finally, shuttle Atlantis will be moved over land to NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida for its exhibition.

For more about the "Welcome Discovery" festival, see the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's website.

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"Welcome Discovery" festival

Overview of planned activities and events

Fly-in Day, April 17

Discovery will depart the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft in the early morning. It is expected to arrive in the Washington, D.C., area around midmorning and will land at Dulles International Airport (weather permitting).

"Welcome Discovery", April 19
Discovery will officially be transferred from NASA to the National Air and Space Museum in an outdoor public ceremony at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Celebration Day, April 19
Both indoor and outdoor activities will take place at the Udvar-Hazy Center before and after the ceremony. Visitors invited to sign a commemorative Discovery banner which will be kept as a memento of the day.

Student Discovery Day, April 20
Astronauts and scientists will present talks designed for young people.

Family Weekend, April 20 and 21
Demonstrations, spacesuit displays, robot activities, interactive displays, and the opportunity to sign a real shuttle tire, for future display.