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Space shuttle Discovery earns cheers on final voyage


This news story was published on April 18, 2012.
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By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times –

WASHINGTON — Cheers broke out from crowds gathered on the National Mall. Workers peered out windows and looked up from sidewalks. Motorists pulled to the side of the road to catch a glimpse of the spectacle:

The space shuttle Discovery piggy-back on a modified 747, flying low over the monuments of the nation’s capital before landing at Dulles International Airport on the way to its permanent new home with the Smithsonian.

(PHOTO: Space shuttle Discovery, mounted atop a NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), flies over the Washington skyline as seen from a NASA T-38 aircraft, Tuesday, April 17, 2012.)

“Folks were pretty excited. It was a pretty special moment and a great show,” said Adrienne Watson, an aide to Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., who was among the congressional staffers who gathered at the U.S. Capitol to watch the historic flyover. The plane flew at about 1,500 feet but made low passes at Dulles and Reagan airports and Joint Base Andrews in its last air show.

The Discovery is the first of the retired shuttles to be delivered to their final destinations after a fierce competition for the rare space artifacts. Others are headed to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan and the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex in Florida.

Jeffrey Solsby, a congressional staffer who watched the flyover from the window of his Capitol Hill office, said his wife Michelle took their daughters, 6 and 4, out of school to see “something I’m sure our girls will remember for a long time.”

In Arlington County, where teachers took students outside for flyover, Barrett Elementary School Principal Theresa Bratt said in an email, “The children told me that they wanted to reach up and touch it because it seemed so close.”

But for Texas congressmen, the flyover was a bitter reminder that Houston, home of mission control, was passed over for a retired orbiter.

“One of these vehicles belongs at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, not on the Intrepid in NY,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, wrote on his Facebook page. “Shame on the White House for playing politics with a national treasure.”

The flyover was such a big event, even in a city accustomed to historic moments, that AAA Mid-Atlantic issued a warning to motorists: “Don’t let anyone or anything — even a space shuttle overhead — distract you” and “For safe shuttle-spotting, pull off the road and park your car.”

A similar flyover is planned for the New York City area next week and perhaps Los Angeles this fall for their shuttle deliveries.

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