Chantilly, VA, APRIL 19TH, 2012 — Shuttle Discovery is home. After clocking in over 365 days in orbit, over 148 million miles in space and three pass-overs of the nation’s capital, Space Shuttle Discovery has been inducted into the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy center. In front of a crowd of thousands, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, along with Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough and Air & Space Museum Director Jack Dailey, signed ownership over to the museum ending NASA’s active involvement with the orbiter.
Along with key NASA and Smithsonian officials, 14 of Discovery’s 31 commanders joined the festivities, walking Discovery from the Dulles International Airport to the museum grounds. Shuttle workers from United Space Alliance, who helped maintain and ultimately retire Discovery, followed behind the orbiter with Discovery’s final banner signed by all who were involved in maintenance of the vehicle.
The Smithsonian festival opened with the National Anthem, sung by messo-soprano Denyce Graves. Music by the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps provided background music as Discovery was towed and placed nose to nose with Shuttle prototype Enterprise amid onlookers waving American flags and cheering.
The emotional ceremony, which at times saw the speakers pause to collect themselves, saw one of NASA’s most distinguished astronauts fire emotional remarks at the state of America’s manned spaceflight program. Senator John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962 and the oldest person in space aboard Shuttle Discovery in 1998 said the shuttle extended the nation’s quest to explore but the program ended too soon.
“The unfortunate decision 8 1/2 years ago to terminate the shuttle program, in my opinion, prematurely grounded Discovery and delayed our research,” Glenn said. Glenn, a democrat, was referring to former President George W. Bush’s plans to transform NASA and return to the moon, a mid-term election initiative that placed an end of life to the shuttle program.
Speaking to the Communities at Washington Times, Glenn said he was saddened by the state of our space program. “When I flew on Mercury, we didn’t know how to do this stuff. When I flew on Discovery as a mission specialists, we were good at it. Now, we’re relying on the Russians to do something America is known for.” Senator Glenn, along with veteran Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first and second humans to walk on the moon, have repeatedly spoken out against the federal government for its lack of funding of NASA and important milestones to return us to the Moon and travel and land on Mars.
The event was bittersweet for Smithsonian officials, who have had Shuttle prototype Enterprise in their collection since 1985. Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough talked with me about the sadness of seeing the vehicle leave the collection. “We all have grown very fond of Enterprise over the years. We’ve spent extensive time restoring the vehicle back to her test flight days. We know her new home (the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space museum) will take good care of her.” Clough added, “It is comforting to know we’re gaining ownership to display the most distinguished orbiter in the fleet, something we can protect and use to inspire the next generation of Astronauts.”
Former shuttle commander Eileen Collins, who was the first female space shuttle pilot and later served as commander during Discovery’s return to flight mission after the Columbia accident, said the end of the shuttle program has been emotional. “I am sad to have seen the program end, but I am hopeful the next phase of American spaceflight will begin soon, with the youth of our country leading the charge.” She then joked, “I think we just need someone to develop warp drive!”
Terrance Jones, who traveled from New Jersey to witness Discovery’s induction to the museum, said “It was amazing to watch videos online of Discovery flying over such historical monuments as well as how the Smithsonian has make it open to the public.” When asked which orbiter he enjoyed most, he said “well, its amazing how clean Enterprise is versus Discovery. The scorching on Discovery really shows just how violent spaceflight can be. So I would say Discovery is my favorite.”
Senator Glenn likely said it best. “At least with Discovery, they decided not to paint it!”
Shuttle Discovery, which will roll into the James. S. McDonnell Space Hanger later today, will be on display immediately to all museum visitors.
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