Discovery nears new home

In this photo provided by NASA, Space Shuttle Discovery, mounted on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, flies over the U.S. Capitol on its way from the Kennedy Space Center to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum at Dulles International Airport. The oldest surviving shuttle, Discovery holds the all-time record with 39 missions, 148 million miles, 5,830 orbits of Earth, and 365 days spent in space. All that was achieved in under 27 years.
In this photo provided by NASA, Space Shuttle Discovery, mounted on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, flies over the U.S. Capitol on its way from the Kennedy Space Center to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum at Dulles International Airport. The oldest surviving shuttle, Discovery holds the all-time record with 39 missions, 148 million miles, 5,830 orbits of Earth, and 365 days spent in space. All that was achieved in under 27 years. (REBECCA ROTH / NASA)

The retired space shuttle took a final flight Tuesday over the Capitol, after years of work, and headed for its resting spot.

Posted: April 18, 2012

WASHINGTON - Retired space shuttle Discovery streaked across the sky one last time Tuesday, piggybacking on a modified Boeing 747 jetliner to Washington Dulles International Airport as it headed for its final resting place: the Smithsonian Institution.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Caroline Boucher, who was visiting from Bangor, Pa.

Tourists and locals gathered on the National Mall, on rooftops and at other sites around the nation's capital to see the historic shuttle in flight before it goes on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.

A 7-year-old boy dressed as an astronaut posed for pictures as his sister stomped on a toy air pump, firing a foam rocket into the air. Bystanders gazed with binoculars, pointing and taking photos as the conjoined crafts took a tandem flight over

Washington at an altitude of 1,500 feet - less than three times the height of the Washington Monument - perfect for viewing.

"Wow," Boucher said. "That's so cool."

The monstrous pairing made three passes over the National Mall, where more than 100 spectators had gathered around the Washington Monument. Onlookers gasped, cheered, oohed and aahed, breaking into applause once Discovery cruised out of sight for the last time.

"I feel like I should burst into patriotic song," said Meg Cuvellier, a nurse from Litchfield, N.H.

With more flights into space than any other craft, Discovery has circled Earth 5,628 times and carried 246 crew members to orbit. During a mission in 1998, one of those crew members was astronaut John Glenn, then 77 years old. The former senator - the first American to orbit Earth, in 1962 - became the oldest astronaut to fly into space.

The historical significance resonated for Lisa Percival of Seattle, who was in Washington on a one-day layover and staying three blocks from the Mall. Percival was in kindergarten when Glenn made his first voyage into space.

"I remember they brought the entire school into the gym and we all watched the flight on a 12-inch black-and-white TV, and here we are all these years later," Percival said. "It's extraordinary."

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