Space Shuttle Discovery in its new home

As most of you know, the Space Shuttle Discovery flew on top of NASA’s specially designed 747 last Tuesday from Kennedy Space Center to its new home in Washington DC.

While many are sad to see the end of the space shuttle program, others look ahead to the next phase of space exploration.  The space shuttle has been a vehicle, both literally and figuratively, for my interest in space science, and I know it has been the same for many of you.  We have been lucky; originally designed to last 10 years, the program has lasted over 30 years.  I would love to say that NASA has their next generation of exploration vehicles ready to go, but that is not the case yet–they are still in development.  Like so many other projects in our lives, it takes money and time–which are both precious commodities and not one thing gets all the attention it needs.  But it’s not over.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked what’s next for NASA, or what I’m going to do now that NASA is done.  NASA is not done, and there are many new directions space exploration is already headed.  NASA’s SLS, or Space Launch System, is underway, with the Orion capsule being tested for its placement atop the new rocket series under development (see my previous post about watching a test drop of the Orion capsule).

Commercial companies are moving full steam ahead for production of their low earth orbit vehicles, the most prominent and exciting of which is May’s launch of the SpaceX rocket/capsule.  If you haven’t seen the 60 Minutes with Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, it’s pretty inspiring and exciting, letting us know that space is not “dead.”

But I digress.  This post is supposed to be about the space shuttle.

With over 40 semis, cranes, and other support vehicles that came from Kennedy Space Center with equipment needed to “de-mate” the space shuttle from its 747, Discovery arrived at Dulles International Airport in time for its dedication ceremony and exhibit festival April 19-22.  Space Shuttle Enterprise, which was housed at the Air and Space Museum, was rolled out of its display hangar (it has been at the Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, not the museum on the Mall in DC), ready to be flown up to the Intrepid Museum in New York City.  Discovery would soon take its place.  This first picture is one of the last of Enterprise at Udvar Hazy.Both Enterprise and Discovery were brought together outside the museum, on the tarmac, and sat there nose-to-nose during the ceremony and after, so everyone could see the two facing one another.

I put the first picture in because even more than seeing the shuttles, I wanted you to notice the boy in the crowd who had fashioned a spacesuit out of cardboard boxes and white paper.  We are often critical of where our imagination lies, and what has become of us, but I couldn’t help but be touched by a boy who was excited enough about this event to make himself a spacesuit.

On another note, what also stood out to me was the contrast between Enterprise and Discovery.  Enterprise was used for glide tests, so it never actually went into space, but instead was dropped from the 747 to test the aerodynamics of the shuttle.  Enterprise is polished and clean, more like a model in many ways (also notice the older NASA logo as compared to the newer NASA “meatball.”).  Discovery has flown more miles in space than any other space shuttles, and she looks like it.  Battle-scarred and scorched, she just LOOKS like she’s been in space.  And as she sat there last week, on the tarmac, with the clouds and sky in the background, it wasn’t a difficult stretch to imagine her out there, in space.  And what a feeling that is to be around it all.

That same evening, Discovery was pulled into Udvar Hazy’s hangar, where she will continue to inspire us all.  There is nothing like seeing the details up close, and I’m so happy they didn’t clean the shuttle up.  She earned every mark on her.

And while I’m sad the program has ended, and I wish we were already up and running in terms of taking astronauts back into space, we have to remember that there were several years between the Apollo program and the Space Shuttle program when we didn’t have a vehicle to take us to space, either.  Space exploration is a tricky and expensive business, and until we as a nation decide to support it more than we are now, it’s going to take a long time to get what we want.  But NASA is ever-busy, and commercial companies are, too.

Until then, we wait for the Mars Science Laboratory to land on Mars this fall, we watch astronauts join with cosmonauts and travel to the International Space Station on a Soyuz rocket, we follow the developments of the James Webb Space Telescope being built in Greenbelt, MD, and we thank the space shuttle for its service and dreams.  Thanks, Discovery!!



~ by alanotte on April 25, 2012.

One Response to “Space Shuttle Discovery in its new home”

  1. LOVE the boy in his space suit. Way to go!!

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