Space Shuttle Discovery’s Final Flight

BY Jenny Marder  April 17, 2012 at 10:37 AM EDT

Discovery circles above Washington, D.C., before landing at Dulles International Airport. Photo by Getty Images.

In Washington D.C., people pressed their faces against windows, squinted from rooftops and crowded the National Mall to catch a glimpse of Space Shuttle Discovery — NASA’s longest-flying shuttle — as it circled above the city on Tuesday, hitched atop a modified 747 jumbo jet, before making its final descent into Dulles International Airport.

It lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida just after dawn this morning, touching down at 11:05 a.m. ET. It will soon be offloaded with cranes from the jet and transferred to its final resting place at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

You can see the final landing on the NASA website here.

The orbiter’s age shows in the black stains and rubbed-out paint along its frame. The workhorse of the shuttle fleet, Discovery has carried more crew members to orbit and flown more missions than any other shuttle. It has traveled 148 million miles. It launched the Hubble Space Telescope, three communications satellites and former Utah Sen. Jake Garn.

It was the first to return to orbit after both the Challenger and Columbia disasters, inspiring an outpouring of support.

And it carried John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, back to space in 1998 to study weightlessness and aging. You can view that original report here.

Watch Discovery’s 39th and final launch from February 2011 here.

It is one of three retired shuttles to go to museums this year. Endeavour heads to Los Angeles this fall, and Atlantis will go on display at the Kennedy Space Center’s visitor complex.

The space shuttle era’s 30 years of manned spaceflight came to a historic close on July 21, 2011, when Space Shuttle Atlantis and her four-member crew touched down for the final time at the Kennedy Space Center.