Space Shuttle in DC

Space Shuttle Discovery riding piggy-back over the Potomac River in Alexandria, VA

Today NASA’s OV-103, aka Space Shuttle Discovery was on it’s last flight mission. She was riding piggy-back on a Boeing 747 jet on her way to her retirement at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Northern Virginia (Chantilly, VA). The flight path took it from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, did a flyover at Dulles Airport, did 5 laps around downtown DC, then back to it’s landing at Dulles.

Luckily I was off today so I decided to head down to Old Town Alexandria on the Potomac River. Unfortunately I didn’t have the best information on it’s flight plans so she came in earlier than I expected. So on my way to Old Town, I made it as far as the intersection of Duke and Callahan at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. While sitting at that light, I saw her flying so nice and low, escorted by a fighter jet. I only had time for the one photo sticking my camera out the window.

If I had realized there would be 4 more laps I would have set up at the Memorial. Instead I turned around and headed back home to watch the rest of her flight on TV.

Living in Orlando for so many years, we got to not just see Discovery, but several others blast into space. It was always spectacular. We went out for a night launch in 1999 or 2000 as well as an afternoon launch in 2009. In the middle of those viewings, we saw it from our house many times. We even climbed up on the roof to watch it once! It was never less than spectacular. Oh, and the double sonic booms on her return would literally shake our house.

Space Shuttle Endeavor launching in 2009
Space Shuttle Endeavor

All of this reminds me of a video that has been making the rounds. It’s full of quotes from Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking about NASA…including this mind-blowing quote:

Do you realize that the $850 billion bank bailout — that sum of money — is greater than the entire 50-year running budget of NASA?

We’ve been fortunate to be a part of NASA’s Space Shuttle program for a decade living in Florida and now we got to witness with our own eyes the ending of NASA’s workhorse Space Shuttle Discovery here in DC.

UPDATE: Great video of the Shuttle flying over the Mall in DC made by Smithsonian Videos:

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  • Yes, I’ve enjoyed watching several launches and hearing the double-tap sonic booms now that I live in Orlando. I’m sad that they have stopped.

    A purely trivia note: During my grad school 40 years ago, one of my professors had a contract with NASA to simulate the Shuttle being released from the 747 during some early test glides to practice Shuttle landings. “Glide” is an interesting word since the Shuttle glides like a rock. The 747 would go into a dive and then release the Shuttle. But shedding 172,000 pounds makes the 747 pop up sharply. Meanwhile, the Shuttle begins to drop like a rock. The key was finding the right dive angle and speed and pilot actions (diving even more steeply) so that they wouldn’t experience a mid-air collision WHILE ensuring that the 747 and Shuttle could withstand the stresses. I don’t remember the outcome, but I do remember many, many hours in the computer lab running simulation after simulation. This was during the punch-card era and the computer output looked like hundreds of numbers like 13.763842E03.

    The professor got paid. I got to pass his course. It was an experience in slave labor called graduate education.