Discover some facts about Discovery


The space shuttle Discovery lifts off from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2005. The next stop for the shuttle is the Smithsonian. (DAVE MARTIN/Associated Press/AP)

Look, up in the sky. It’s a bird; it’s a plane; it’s a space shuttle!

Tuesday morning, if the weather if good, the space shuttle Discovery will fly piggyback on a 747 jet over parts of the Washington area on its way to landing about 10:40 a.m. at Dulles International Airport. Then on Thursday, the shuttle will be moved to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center, where it will be on display for everyone to see.

If you’re thinking “but I’ve already seen a shuttle at the museum,” you’d be right. But that is the shuttle Enterprise, which never actually flew in space. Discovery went on lots of fascinating and historic missions. Here are just a few facts about Discovery that you can use to amaze your siblings, classmates, parents and teachers.

●Shuttle Discovery flew its first mission on August 30, 1984, and landed after its last mission on March 9, 2011.

Buzz Lightyear at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The doll traveled on Discovery, though not quite to infinity and beyond. (NASA/Paul E. Alers)

●It flew 39 missions and spent a total of one year (365 days) in space.

●Discovery took the Hubble Space Telescope, which is about the size of a school bus, into space.

●It got its name from four British exploring ships, all named Discovery.

●Discovery was the shuttle that was launched after the tragic disasters involving the shuttle Challenger in 1986 and the Columbia in 2003. It earned the nickname the “Return to Flight” orbiter.

●Discovery carried former astronaut John Glenn, who was the first American to orbit Earth in 1962, back into space in 1998. At the time, Glenn was 77 years old, making him the oldest person in space.

●Discovery carried a Buzz Lightyear toy into space in 2008. Buzz spent 468 days on the international space station before returning to Earth aboard Discovery in 2009. (Last month, Buzz found a new home at the Air and Space Museum on the Mall as part of the popular-culture collection.)

●The only president to attend a shuttle launch was Bill Clinton. He watched Discovery blast into space in October 1998.

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