Discovery’s Final Flight
The Space Shuttle Orbiter Discovery left the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for the final time, last Tuesday morning at 6:58 am, to be put on display at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington’s Dulles International Airport in Fairfax County, Virginia.
The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) with Discovery on top departed KSC’s runway 15 to the southeast, flew over the KSC Visitors Center and headed south at a low altitude towards Patrick Air Force Base.
The SCA turned around low over Patrick Air Force Base to give Air Force service personnel one last look at the vehicle they supported for the past 30 years, before flying slow and low over Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral to give the community that supported the Shuttle program a final glimpse at a vehicle that was an integral part of life on the Space Coast.
After this, the SCA made another pass over the KSC Visitor’s Center, then flew over the old shuttle launch pads and the Vehicle Assembly Building before making a final pass at 500 feet over the old shuttle landing runway.
Approximately 2,000 people, including former and current employees, visitors and news media, were gathered for the occasion.
After Discovery’s final spaceflight, STS-133, was completed on March 9, 2011, crews began decontaminating the orbiter and removing components for museum display.
A few days before the ferry flight to Virginia, Discovery was towed out of the Vehicle Assembly Building for the final time and mounted to the top of a modified Boeing 747-100, the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (N905NA) with the Mate/Demate Device at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF).
This 747 was the first in NASA’s two ship fleet of 747’s modified to carry the Space Shuttles back to KSC after landing at locations other than the SLF at KSC.
N905NA was purchased from American Airlines in 1974 and all seats and interiors aft of the forward door were removed to decrease of the weight of the aircraft so that it could accommodate the weight of the Space Shuttle orbiter.
Additional frames were added to the fuselage below the points where the orbiter is attached. Since the weight of the orbiter on the aircraft would bring the center of gravity too far to the aft of the aircraft than acceptable for flight, several thousand pounds of ballast weights were added to the front of the aircraft. The area in the cargo hold forward of the forward cargo door is occupied almost entirely by ballast weights.
In its retired configuration, Discovery is 30,000 to 40,000 pounds lighter than when it was active and hence, the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft with Discovery has an
additional hour of flight time than usual.
This extra flight time allowed the crew to fly over national monuments in Washington DC for nearly an hour before landing at Washington’s Dulles International Airport.
In a ceremony on April 19, the test space shuttle Enterprise was removed from the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and Discovery put in its place.
The Enterprise will be flown to John F. Kennedy International Airport on top of the SCA and then put onto a barge to be taken to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in June. The SCA with Enterprise is planned to flyover the metropolitan New York City area before landing.
The next orbiter departure from KSC will be Endeavour leaving in October for its final resting place in the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California. Atlantis will be moved to the KSC Visitor’s Center in 2013.