April 12, 2011
The space shuttle that has flown more missions than any other is coming to the Smithsonian.
Announced just moments ago, Discovery will be coming to the National Air and Space Museum to be preserved in the collections with the 1903 Wright Flyer, Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 5B Vega and the Spirit of St. Louis. Before Discovery can kick off its shoes and relax in space shuttle retirement, scientists must first inspect the aircraft and gather valuable information from its many trips into space. It may take months before Discovery is ready to go from highly dependable space shuttle to museum exhibit.
“An acquisition of this importance happens rarely in the life of a museum,” says Air and Space curator Dr. Valerie Neal in an email interview. “It is an honor and privilege to welcome Discovery into the national collection, where it will be displayed, preserved, and cared for forever.”
Discovery accomplished numerous milestones during its 27-year career and 365 total days in space. It was flown by the first African-American commander, Frederick Gregory in 1989, as well as piloted by the first female spacecraft pilot, Eileen Collins in 1995. The space shuttle also served as a return-to-flight vehicle after the Challenger (1988) and Columbia (2005) tragedies.
The design of the Discovery was unique for its time and made these achievements in space travel possible.
“The shuttle orbiters were the first vehicles to launch into space like a rocket, return on wings and wheels to land like an aircraft, and fly over and over again,” says Dr. Neal. “They made an entirely new style of spaceflight possible and greatly expanded the scope of human activity in space.”
From its design, history and crowning achievements, Discovery will make a great addition to the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. Be sure to check back with Around the Mall for future updates on when you will be able to see Discovery in person. In the meantime, check out the video below of Dr. Neal as she highlights Enterprise and its impact on manned space flights.
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