Smithsonian Welcomes Discovery to Space Collection
CHANTILLY, Va. (AP) - NASA turned over space shuttle Discovery on Thursday to the Smithsonian Institution, the first in its orbiter fleet to be transferred to a U.S. museum.
The U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, astronauts including former Sen. John Glenn and several thousand visitors with American flags greeted Discovery. It will retire as an artifact representing the 30-year shuttle program.
The world’s most traveled spaceship had been lifted off its Boeing 747 carrier and towed to the National Air and Space Museum’s massive hangar facility near Washington Dulles International Airport.
Curator Valerie Neal said Discovery will be displayed as if it just landed, with its large payload bay doors closed. Some of its side panels are worn and discolored, and tiles on its underbelly show streaks from the flames of re-entry to the atmosphere.
The top question museum visitors have been asking is whether they will be able to walk inside Discovery or see the flight deck, Neal said.
"We don’t permit that here because we treat all of the aircraft and spacecraft as artifacts, not as exhibit props," she said. Allowing people to walk inside would require cutting a bigger hatch, which would damage it.
Instead, the museum has created 360-degree interactive pictures of Discovery’s flight deck and mid deck. Soon there will also be images of the payload bay accessible at kiosks near the Discovery display. That will allow visitors to have a view from the commander’s seat and then float through compartments to explore the shuttle. A companion exhibit at the space museum on the National Mall will include a model of Discovery’s mid deck, where visitors can climb inside and see a shuttle toilet (think vacuum cleaner) and other features.
Discovery flew every type of mission during the 30-year shuttle program. It deployed satellites, including Hubble, as well as top secret Defense Department missions in the 1980s with military astronauts on board. It also was the first shuttle to travel to the Russian space station Mir and to dock with the International Space Station.
Because Discovery and other craft in the shuttle fleet were larger than earlier spacecraft, they opened new avenues to space for women and minority candidates in science and engineering who wouldn’t have come through military test pilot programs. Neal said that brought "people who were indicative of the rest of us" into space.