The space shuttle Discovery, carried on the back of a jumbo jet, will fly over Washington on Tuesday as the onetime workhorse of NASA’s orbiter fleet is delivered to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The arrival of the shuttle marks the first half of an exchange that will see Discovery take up residence at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, while the test-shuttle Enterprise will be transferred to New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
Discovery and its carrier will touch down at about 10:40 a.m. at Washington Dulles International Airport, museum officials said, after a flight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Museum officials said the Discovery will conduct a low fly-by along the Mall and Potomac River north of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
The Enterprise is scheduled to meet its replacement nose-to-nose Thursday in a public ceremony. Enterprise was used as a vehicle for a number of tests both in the atmosphere and on the ground, including vibration, system and performance tests. It was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1985.
Discovery’s debut flight was Aug. 30, 1984, and it flew 39 missions, including those carrying the first black and first female shuttle commanders and the 1998 mission in which astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, returned to space. It also was the first shuttle to fly after disasters claimed the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 and the space shuttle Columbia in 2003.
Discovery’s final flight was in February 2011, shortly before the 30-year-old program ended last summer.
A year ago, NASA announced its decision to display the orbiter at the Northern Virginia museum that is a companion facility to the Air and Space Museum on the Mall. Gen. John R. “Jack” Dailey, the museum’s director, called the Discovery “an educational treasure.”
Over the weekend, dozens of museumgoers milled about the foot of the Enterprise during its final days in Virginia, snapping photographs and gawking at its size.
“You don’t realize how big it is until you’re next to it,” said Stephen Vickars, 65, who was visiting the museum with his brother.
The brothers, from West Virginia, said they had heard about the shuttle switch. They worried more about what the move means for the future of space exploration.
“We were always glued to the TV,” said Sue Pannoni, a Rochester, N.Y., resident, about growing up with the shuttle program. “We can’t just abandon it. I say move on and keep going forward.”
“It was a bit more interesting at first,” Rick McCabe, a Boston-area resident, said of the space program as he gave his grandson a history lesson. “But a lot of good science and inventions could be used for everyday life.”
As he looked up at the nose of the Enterprise, Mr. Vickars, a pilot for nearly 40 years, said he could lend a hand to NASA crew members if they needed it.
“I’d love to go to space or the moon,” Mr. Vickars said. “If you quit exploring, what are you going to do?”
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