Astronaut: Discovery's final flight "tugged on my heartstrings"

Space Shuttle Discovery Tues. April 17, 2012 as it hitched a ride from the Kennedy Space Center in Brevard, Fla., mounted atop a 747.
Space Shuttle Discovery Tues. April 17, 2012 as it hitched a ride from the Kennedy Space Center in Brevard, Fla., mounted atop a 747.
CBS News

(CBS News) CHANTILLY, Va. - There were cheers and some tears as the shuttle Discovery made its final flight on Tuesday.

It took off at sunrise from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, flying piggyback on a 747. Later it flew over Washington, past the monument and the Capitol, as thousands looked up in wonder.

Discovery landed at Dulles Airport in Virginia, near its new home at the Smithsonian annex. CBS News correspondent Chip Reid reports.

Space Shuttle Discovery flies final mission

On Monday generations of astronauts came by Florida's Kennedy Space Center to say goodbye to an old friend - the shuttle Discovery.

"Pleasure to meet all of you.  We know the secret discovery handshake, right?" laughed Mike Mullane.

If anyone knows the "secret Discovery handshake" it's Mullane. Discovery's maiden voyage in 1984 was also his first trip into space, a memory that's still vivid.

As the main engines started, Mullane said he remembers thinking,  "Well, whatever happens, I'm goin' now."

"When you climb into a rocket for a launch into space there are two fundamental emotions that are gripping you," Mullane said. "One is gut fear. You do fear for your life. The other is boundless joy, because it's a lifetime dream come true."

His dream began as a child with homemade rockets.

"My capsule was a Maxwell house coffee can, my tubing was a piece of my mother's vacuum cleaner tubing," Mullane said.

He flew three shuttle missions and Discovery made 39 trips into space. But the shuttle program has faded into history, the stuff of historical documentaries.

"I wanted to be an astronaut as soon as I heard the word. I was a child of the space race," he said.

Reid: "How would you describe the mix of emotions you were feeling today when you saw Discovery back up?"

Mullane: "It tugged on my heartstrings and my soul to see it."

He still feels the joy he says but also deep frustration that the shuttle program ended before a new manned spacecraft was developed. It will be five years or more before a new American ship is ready.

"The United States of America, the premier space-faring nation in the world, has to buy rides on a Russian rocket to take Americans into space," Mullane said, "and that definitely makes me mad."

So, too, does the fact that his 15-year-old grandson Sean has no manned space program to dream about.

Reid: "Your grandson is obviously interested in space."

"He's a science geek," Mullane said.

Reid: "Exactly. But he can't be an astronaut."

Mullane: "I am very disappointed, and angry, frankly, that the youth of this nation, including my grandson - don't have that inspiration that has been provided by NASA in the past with the manned program."

Still Mullane looks forward to one day visiting his old friend discovery at the museum.

"I'll see the people milling around and in my mind I'm gonna be thinking, 'I got to ride that. I flew this thing into space,'" Mullane said.

A dream that came true for him and that he only wishes could come true for his grandson's generation.

  • Chip-Reid_bio_140x100_bw.jpg
    Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.