Thursday, April 19, 2012

Space has captured my imagination since I was eight. I remember printing out pictures on KidPix of the moon, Earth and solar system. This obsession hasn't wavered in my college years. Point in case: when my Dad visited me in February, I made him drive me out to the Udvar Hazy Center at the end of Dulles Airport, which brings me to the subject of this post.

On Tuesday, people gathered throughout DC and, like me, relived their childhood. The scene was nothing short than incredible: Discovery was resting atop a modified NASA 747, with a NASA chase plane flying right beside the tandem. All the while, this was taking place above DC and its famous monuments (the pictures on this link tell the story better than words can).

What surprised me about this was the diversity in age of the people there; everyone from children to "mature Americans" gathered to watch the Discovery, for the last time, soaring above the clouds. I got done with a tour at 10 and immediately ran - not walked - outside and raced towards the corner of Cannon that faced the Capitol in my suit. I waited, waited, waited, and, then, I heard the sound of four Rolls Royce engines, looked up and there was a sight I'd though about, hell, I'd dreamed about. As we all - interns, staff, general public, even congressmen - watched this aeronautical drama play out over our heads, I couldn't help but wonder if these people had the same thoughts I did.

It was fitting that this was done for the Discovery, a ship that was the oldest of the shuttles and had logged more miles than any in the fleet. Indeed, too many American forget how incredible the shuttle program was and what it gave to the country and the world in terms of scientific knowledge gained.

After a long and storied career, the Discovery can enjoy an easy retirement at the Udvar Hazy Center, which was literally made for this arrival. The 747 landed at Dulles on runway 1R, taxied down taxiway K, headed down another taxiway at the south end of the field behind runway 1R, rolled a few hundred yards to the rear hanger of the Udvar Hazy Center and parked. Maybe you need to be an aviation guy like me to appreciate this, but the fact that a space shuttle was so easily transported from Cape Canaveral to it's final resting place is nothing short of remarkable.

As of 4:00 this afternoon, the shuttle was officially welcomed to its final home. I'm not sure when I'll have the opportunity to visit this historic vehicle but I can't wait to see it and relive my childhood.

No comments: