Discovery space shuttle moves to its final home

After a year of decommissioning, NASA's space shuttle Discovery will make her final flight, to Dulles International Airport — site of the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center — on the morning of April 17, weather permitting.

See the shuttle take its final flight



Discovery will be towed from NASA's 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the Mate-Demate Device near the shuttle's runway.

Mate-Demate Device

Metal sling

The shuttle is bolted to three mounting struts on the Boeing 747.

Boeing 747

The jumbo jet will carry the 83-ton Discovery to Dulles International Airport on the morning of April 17, weather permitting.

The tandem is scheduled to fly about 1,500 feet above the District and the region, between 10 and 11 a.m.

Upon arrival at Dulles, the two-day demate process will begin.

The shuttle will gently be lifted above the 747 with a sling attached to two cranes.

On April 19, Discovery will be towed into the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar, where it will replace the prototype shuttle Enterprise.

Space Hangar

Shuttle parts removed before the move

The shuttle the public sees in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is missing some parts, which were donated to NASA's next rocket and to research for the next-generation spacecraft.


    Main engines

    The three space shuttle main engines, along with many valves, pipes, and regulators, were removed for re-use on NASA’s next manned rocket, the Space Launch System. Three replica engine nozzles – leftover from NASA tests – were then bolted on. “You can’t tell the difference,” said Kevin Templin, NASA's transition manager for the shuttles.

    Orbital maneuvering system

    Two pods housed thrusters to move Discovery to different orbits and to slow the craft for re-entry. Before reinstalling the empty pods, crews sent them to New Mexico, where most of the components and all traces of toxic fuel were removed.

    Flight windows

    Discovery sports nine double-pane windows. The outer panes were removed and sent to Johnson Space Center, where experts will study pits and scratches from micrometeorite impacts.

    Front reaction control system

    Thrusters in Discovery’s nose maneuvered the craft in orbit and spun it around in a “backflip” to allow inspection of the heat-absorbing tiles. This mini van-sized section was removed, cleaned of all traces of toxic fuel, and replaced.

    Crew cabin

    The Smithsonian requested that Discovery’s lockers, toilet, galley, and seats remain installed in the shuttle’s two-level crew cabin. Some communications and flight control equipment was removed from the flight deck.

    Wing sensors

    After shuttle Columbia’s demise was traced to foam debris from the external fuel tank hitting the wing, NASA developed a detector to sense impacts on the wing’s front edge. These sensors and data recorders were removed for study.

    Robotic arm and airlock

    The Canadian robotic arm used to sling spacewalkers and cargo has been removed and will be displayed next to Discovery. The airlock, which connected Discovery to the international space station while providing an exit to the payload bay, was removed before delivery.

    Spin to view the shuttle

    SOURCE: NASA, Smithsonian, Brian Vastag. GRAPHIC: Emily Chow, Alberto Cuadra, Todd Lindeman and Sisi Wei - The Washington Post. Published April 13, 2012.


    Reflections on the Space Shuttle Discovery (1:19)

    Workers from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida talk about Discovery and the shuttle program as the remaining vehicles are prepared to be displayed across the country.