Space Shuttle Discovery Flies to Washington DC

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The crew of Discovery's final mission to space (photo by Matthew Peddie)

(Orlando - WMFE) Space shuttle Discovery flew Tuesday morning from Kennedy Space Center to Virginia where it will be displayed at the National Air and Space Museum hangar near Dulles International airport.

The flight is the first of four ferry operations to move the shuttles to new display sites around the country.

Soon after Discovery finished its final mission to space in March 2011, work began to remove hardware, fuel and toxic chemicals.

“It took a lot of time and effort to flush systems and in other cases remove components of those systems to ensure they will be safe,” said Stephanie Stilson, NASA flow director for the orbiter retirement program.

Discovery and the mate-demate device (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Getting the 167,000 pound shuttle onto the jumbo is a delicate process. Discovery was winched up into a mate-demate device- a giant steel gantry- and fastened to the 747 over the weekend.

“We have a huge torque multiplier,” said Stilson. “I don’t know the exact value, but it’s a huge wrench to ensure that along the way we don’t have any problem with those fasteners coming loose.

NASA shuttle transition manager Kevin Templin said while he’s sorry to see the shuttle leave Kennedy Space Center, putting it on display will help the public understand its value to space exploration.

“We get to see these vehicles every day, and we know how complex they are,” he said.

“It takes getting up close and understanding the scale and the complexity of what we’ve done here for the past 30 years to really appreciate the effort going into this.”

Templin said the retirement operation is only half over.

“Getting an orbiter to a museum is a big undertaking, a major achievement, but in parallel, there’s a team working to transition all that other property and building and records and things,” he said.

There’s still plenty of work ahead for the team in charge of retiring the rest of the orbiter fleet.

Enterprise, which never went into space, will be flown from Dulles to New York next week. The shuttle’s expected to fly over the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks Monday morning before touching down at JFK. In June, Enterprise will be put on a barge and towed up the Hudson River for display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

In September the 747 transporter will fly the shuttle Endeavour from Florida to California.

Atlantis has the shortest trip of all- from the vehicle assembly building at Kennedy Space Center to the KSC visitor’s center 6 miles away.