Aboard 747, Space Shuttle Discovery To Make Final Flight The first of NASA's retired space shuttles will make its way to its new retirement home on April 17. The well-traveled orbiter will be flown low over the nation's capital before being placed on permanent display at the Smithsonian.
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Shuttle Discovery To Make Final Flight, Atop A 747

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Shuttle Discovery To Make Final Flight, Atop A 747

Shuttle Discovery To Make Final Flight, Atop A 747

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. For 30 years, NASA's space shuttles blasted off our planet. Launching them into space was a serious technological feat. In the coming months, the now retired shuttles will travel to museums around the country. The first is scheduled to leave for the Smithsonian Institution tomorrow morning.

Though the shuttles are going to places like New York and Los Angeles instead of the space station, NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports that it's still a challenge getting them there.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: The first of NASA's four shuttles to head for its final retirement home will be Discovery. Early tomorrow, it will leave Kennedy Space Center in Florida on top of a modified jumbo jet. It's headed for Washington, D.C. Assuming the weather cooperates, crowds are expected to gather and watch Discovery being flown near the city's famous monuments.

Jeff Moultrie is a NASA pilot who will be flying the Boeing 747.

JEFF MOULTRIE: On the one hand, we're happy to be doing what we're doing. On the other hand, we're sort of sad to be seeing it going away.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: The plane he'll be flying has routinely carried space shuttles. It's how NASA got its shuttles back to Florida if they had to land at a back-up location. But people have always gawked at the sight of the big, white spaceship perched on top of a plane.

It made a huge impression on Moultrie, who first saw it decades ago, long before he became a NASA pilot and when the shuttles were a brand new technological marvel.

MOULTRIE: Overhead Huntsville, Alabama, I did see a shuttle carrier with a shuttle and it was sort of an image that I'll probably never forget. And so I think it's probably the same with most of the folks who are going to be seeing this thing overhead of the nation's capitol.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Discovery will land at the Dulles International Airport outside of D.C., right next to a big facility full of historic aircraft run by the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

For years, that building has held Enterprise, a prototype shuttle that never flew in space. It will get swapped out for Discovery since the museum wants a shuttle that was in orbit. Then, Enterprise heads for its new home. Its turn on NASA's special 747 will come next week when it flies to New York City. The destination is the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, an aircraft carrier parked on the west side of Manhattan.

And the best way to get Enterprise there from the airport is to float it up the Hudson River on a barge.

SUSAN MARENOFF-ZAUSNER, PRESIDENT, THE INTREPID MUSEUM: She will be visible. She's not going to be shrink-wrapped or covered, so when she floats up the river, it's going to be quite a sight. So, if you can imagine the floating by the Statue of Liberty and Ground Zero, where we will pay a tribute, it's going to be quite a sight.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Susan Marenoff-Zausner is president of the Intrepid Museum. She says the shuttle's trip up the river should happen in June. The exact timing depends on the tides.

MUSEUM: You don't want to ground the barge, so you have to wait for a certain level of tide so that when you're placing the weight on the barge, that the barge remains floating. And then the bridges have a certain clearance, so we want to wait for the lowest tide to make sure that the shuttle safely clears the bottom of the bridges that we'll be sailing under.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: A crane will haul Enterprise to aircraft carrier's flight deck, where a temporary structure will quickly be erected around it. The museum is still considering its options for permanent display.

Space Shuttle Endeavour will be the next to head out. It's going to Los Angeles. Jeff Rudolph is president of the California Science Center, which has actually owned Endeavour since last fall, when officials filled out the standard one-page form used to transfer excess government property.

JEFF RUDOLPH: The property ordered is listed as one orbiter, Shuttle Endeavour OV-105 with an acquisition cost of $1,980,674,785 dollars. So it's a pretty cool document.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Under shipping instructions, the form says NASA shall bring the property to the Los Angeles International Airport. Rudolph says, there, it will get loaded onto a huge vehicle normally used to transport construction equipment. That will drive the shuttle to the museum about 12 miles through the streets of L.A.

RUDOLPH: We have people from throughout the country and the world saying, tell us when it is. We really want to be there and see it because it is the only time that you will ever be able to see a space shuttle traveling through the streets of a major urban area.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: He expects that in September or October. Rudolph says they ultimately want to display Endeavour upright like it's on the launch pad. Doing that for the long term will involve a lot of structural engineering, especially since it will have to be earthquake-proof.

RUDOLPH: One of the questions I get all the time is, are you going to be able to get inside?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: The answer at all the museums is no. The shuttle's hatch and cockpit are too small.

RUDOLPH: There's just no viable way to put millions of people a year through that thing without destroying it.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: In November, NASA will say goodbye to its last shuttle, Atlantis. It will have the shortest distance to travel. It's just going next door to the Kennedy Space Center's visitors center.

Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

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