If you were walking around the Washington, D.C. Metro area this past Tuesday morning, you may have noticed a lot of people with their heads titled to the sky.
And if you yourself took a peek up, you would have seen an incredible sight: the space shuttle Discovery, strapped to the back of a Boeing 747.
The famous spacecraft was taking its final flight. After retiring from duty, it was flown up from Cape Canaveral to the area, to spend the remainder of its days on display by the Smithsonian.
After making laps around the nation’s capital, the shuttle headed to Dulles Airport. There, it was taken to the Smithsonian’s largest museum, which this weekend, is hosting a ceremony to welcome Discovery to its new home.
The shuttle will now permanently reside at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which is an annex of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Opened in 2003, the Udvar-Hazy center sits just south of Dulles Airport, in Chantilly. It’s easily the largest museum in the area, coming in it at over 760,000 square feet. The space was designed to house numerous large planes the Smithsonian owned, but did not have room for in the Air and Space Museum’s original home on the National Mall. The center took over 15 years to build, and now, the hangar-style building has one of the most astounding collections of aviation craft in the world.
Among the highlights of the Udvar-Hazy Center are the Enola Gay, the plane that carried and dropped the first atomic bomb; an SR-71 Blackbird, which once was the fastest plane in the world; an Air France Concorde supersonic airliner, the fastest commercial airplane ever; and an F-14 Tomcat fighter jet.
And that’s just the planes. The Udvar-Hazy center also houses a number of spacecraft.
This weekend is dedicated to their new centerpiece, Discovery. Thursday is the shuttle’s official welcoming ceremony, where 14 former Discovery captains will be on hand to witness the festivities. For the day, outside the museum, Discovery will sit next to its sister ship, Enterprise, who is leaving the museum and heading up to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City. At the end of the day, Discovery will be moved to its indoor resting place.
All weekend, the museum will host Discovery-themed events, with the primary displays covering the achievement of the U.S. space shuttle program, which was in existence for 30 years, until it ended in 2011.
There will also be numerous space-based exhibits inside and outside the center. In the parking lot, visitors can look through a sun telescope to get an up-close view of our main star. And in case you have any questions, astronomers will be standing by to answer them.
Inside, there are exhibits on the Mars Rover, with an inflatable model cruising around and even running over your feet, showcasing how it can maneuver over obstacles. There are also exhibits on the spacesuits former Discovery astronauts wore, as well as a scaled down model of the flight deck, where you can watch a simulation showing what it’s like to land the massive ship.
Admission to the Udvar-Hazy Center is free, but there is a $15 fee to park.
So if seeing the shuttle cruise overhead this week gave you space fever, head down to Chantilly, where there’s everything a person dreaming of the skies could want to see.
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