Space Shuttle Discovery flies final mission

Updated at 11:05 a.m. ET

(CBS News) It was a different flight for Space Shuttle Discovery Tuesday as it hitched a ride from the Kennedy Space Center in Brevard, Fla., mounted atop a 747.

The plane soared 1,500 feet over the nation's capital, gliding over the Potomac River, Reagan Airport and National Mall before touching down at Dulles Airport.

After 39 trips into space, NASA's oldest surviving shuttle now will settle into its retirement home at the Smithsonian institution's facility at Dulles International Airport, just outside Washington, D.C. Space shuttle Enterprise will head to New York City. Endeavour will go to Los Angeles. Atlantis will stay at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Space shuttle Discovery launches on final flight

Charles Bolden and other former NASA astronauts and staff will be awaiting the shuttle's arrival at Dulles.

"People get emotionally attached to the shuttle," said NASA administrator Charles Bolden, who watched the shuttle land with fellow former astronauts. "You bet we do."

Bolden flew two of his four space missions on Discovery, taking part in one of the most important deliveries: the Hubble telescope.

Bolden said Hubble "opened a totally new world, a totally new understanding of our universe."

It's been 27 years of spectacular discoveries. During that time, the shuttle logged nearly 143 million miles, carrying more crew members into space than any other vehicle.

Now, Discovery will remain grounded at the Smithsonian.

Science teacher Becky McGaffin was teaching about the shuttle's legacy when we visited Walter Johnson High School.

She let CBS News quiz the class - and they made their interest clear.

When asked how many students are disappointed that the space shuttle program has ended, the entire class raised their hands.

Despite the end of the shuttle era, the students hope space exploration will go on in a new direction.

One student said, "I'm really interested in the thought of other galaxies, you know, what's beyond even our solar system. I think that's very cool."

Another said, "I'm pretty sure that we've answered so many questions by going into space and we can answer so many more."


  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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