The last Discovery Space Shuttle flight took place Tuesday April 17th 2012 mounted atop the NASA 905 Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. After 39 missions in space totaling 365 days, Discovery left the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:58 am as the pair treated spectators to a graceful fly-by. The arrival four hours later at the nation’s capital Washington Dulles International Airport was graced with similar historical solemnity with an overflight of the National Mall and other iconic buildings.
Preparing For The Flight
Discovery’s mating to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft was carried out on Sunday April 15th, a day later than planned after strong wind gusts impaired work at the Kennedy Space Center the day before.
The Mate Demate Device MDD that helps secure the Space Shuttle onto the Carrier Aircraft is a bridge-like metallic structure whose crane helps hoist the 167,000 pounds (75,300 kgs) space shuttle 60ft (18 m) in the air while the Boeing 747 is allowed to park underneath the still hanging shuttle. In a tightly choreographed sequence, the 122-foot (38-meter) long orbiter space shuttle is lowered onto the 231-foot (70-meter) Shuttle Carrier Aircraft Boeing 747 where it is finally secured onto three attachment points.
Since its first delivery flight to Kennedy Space Center on November 9th 1983, Discovery was carried by NASA 905 fourteen times before this final flight. In four other ferry flights, Discovery was mated to the now retired NASA 911 second Shuttle Carrier Boeing 747 Aircraft.
Following today’s arrival at Washington Dulles International Airport, two large cranes will remove Discovery from the back of the NASA 905 Boeing 747. The official arrival ceremony scheduled for Thursday April 19th 2012 will see Discovery roll onto its Smithsonian’s James S. McDonnell Space Hangar final stand at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum adjacent to Dulles complex. No later than April 23rd 2012, NASA 905 is due to arrive at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport carrying the Enterprise Space Shuttle. Enterprise was the first prototype of the orbital space shuttle program which never flew to space but instead was used for Approach and Landing Tests in 1977 when released from the NASA 905 carriers. On display at Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum since 2003, Enterprise is moving to a new home at the NYC Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum. Delivery will take place on the Intrepid’s deck after being ferried by barge from JFK via New York City’s Hudson River.
The NASA Space Shuttle Carriers
NASA 905 refers to the oldest of two assigned Boeing 747 registered N905NA acquired by NASA from American Airlines in 1974 (reportedly for about $15,601,192.19). The modifications made by Boeing onto this Boeing 747-123 manufactured in 1970 comprise the addition of the three struts where the Space Shuttle attaches to along with two vertical stabilizers at the aircraft tailplane. The other Space Shuttle Carrier Boeing 747 aircraft known as NASA 911 (registered N-911NA) made its final flight on February 8th 2012 after more than 20 years of service with NASA. This 747-100SR(-46) built in 1973 and acquired by NASA from Japan Air Lines in 1989 will now serve as spare parts supporting NASA 905 in its next mission as NASA Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
The End Of The Line
With Discovery induction at the Smithsonian Museum in the nation’s capital and Enterprise donation to the Intrepid Museum in New York, Atlantis will remain at Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida while Endeavour will head to the California Science Center in Los Angeles later this year.
references and photo courtesy of NASA