Smithsonian Institution accepts delivery of shuttle Discovery

CBS News

Former Mercury astronaut and shuttle veteran John Glenn joined NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and dozens of current and former astronauts Thursday to mark the space shuttle Discovery's final passage from the lofty heights of operational spaceflight and its unrivaled status as the world's premier manned spacecraft to the quiet confines of a Smithsonian Institution hangar

Bolted to the back of a 747 jumbo jet, Discovery was flown from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Dulles International Airport near Washington Tuesday for delivery to the Smithsonian Institution's Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Engineers operating two large cranes then lifted the orbiter off its transport jet, deployed its landing gear and prepared the craft for an official arrival ceremony.

The shuttle Discovery (right) is parked nose to nose with the prototype orbiter Enterprise, used for approach and landing tests in 1977. Discovery is taking Enterprise's place at the Smithsonian Institution's Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport. Enterprise, in turn, will be moved to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City. (Credit: NASA)

Escorted by more than 30 Discovery veterans, including 15 commanders, NASA's oldest surviving space shuttle was slowly towed toward its new home, stopping on a taxiway nose to nose with the prototype shuttle Enterprise, which Discovery is replacing at the Udvar-Hazy hangar. Enterprise, in turn, will be attached to the 747 for delivery to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.

"Today, we turn Discovery over to the Smithsonian with great expectation that as we have always done, NASA will continue to inspire the young people of today and tomorrow to dream of space, to dream of uncovering the secrets of the universe and take steps to pursue the careers that will make them the exploration leaders of tomorrow," Bolden said.

Astronauts who flew aboard the shuttle Discovery escort the orbiter during a ceremony to deliver the ship to the Smithsonian Institution for permanent display at the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport near Washington. Leading the procession are Karol Bobko, Joe Engle, Mike Coats and Fred Gregory. (Credit: NASA TV)
"The hope that we leave with you today is that this magnificent flying machine that carried more people to space than any vehicle ever before will be a testament, not only to overcoming the human and technological obstacles of the day, but a tangible example that our dreams of exploration, of reaching our higher potential are always within reach if we stretch for them."

Glenn, who flew aboard Discovery in 1998, called NASA's oldest surviving orbiter the "star" of the fleet, with a record of 39 space missions, the first in August 1984 and its final flight in February/March 2011.

"It became a science platform for nine flights, a satellite launcher for 12 flights, a telescope repair station," Glenn said. "And (it) also served as a plain, flat-out truck. It was the first space station delivery truck, 13 flights it made to put together the space station that goes over us even today. Discovery was truly a heavy hauler.

"The unfortunate decision made eight-and-a-half years ago to terminate the shuttle fleet in my view prematurely grounded Discovery and delayed our research," he said. "But those decisions have been made, we recovered and now we move on with new programs and possibilities unlimited."