By Matthew Peddie – WMFE
Space shuttle Discovery departed Florida for the last time on the back of a 747 transportation jet. WMFE’s Matthew Peddie reports, the NASA staff who worked on Discovery and the astronauts who flew on her final mission to the international space station have mixed feelings about saying goodbye to the shuttle and the program.[audio:http://www.wuft.org/media/audio/shuttlefinal16F.mp3]
With the sun breaking over Kennedy Space Center Monday morning, the 747 transport plane powered up and pushed back from the big steel gantry used to perch the shuttle on its back.
Discovery looks like it could still fly more missions.
It’s taken more than a year to get it ready for display.
Some of the hardware’s been taken out for use in NASA’s next generation heavy lift rocket.
Stephanie Stilson, NASA’s flow manager for the retirement program, says the oldest surviving orbiter has had some special treatment.
“Because she is the vehicle of record, we did not take as many components out of Discovery as we will Atlantis and Endeavor. Basically Atlantis and Endeavor will have their aft compartments pretty much gutted, and have those components saved for this new program. With Discovery we did not do that because we wanted to keep it as intact as possible.”
Discovery logged 365 days in orbit on its 39 missions.
Stilson says while it won’t be flying as fast on its last ride, every bit of care has been taken to make sure it arrives at the Smithsonian in good shape.
“We have a huge torque multiplier, and I don’t know the exact value, but it’s a huge wrench to ensure that along the way we won’t have any problem with those fasteners coming loose.”
Astronaut Michael Barratt flew on Discovery’s final mission in March last year.
He has mixed feelings about saying goodbye to the shuttle.
“It’s time for this program to end, as hard as it is for us. There’s no question that these birds are very old. They’re graceful, they’re wonderful. Discovery flew incredibly for us, it was a perfect machine. But it’s very old technology. But it’s time to move on it’s time to build new spaceships, time to get out of low earth orbit and take some other exploration steps.”
Barratt is still an astronaut, and at some point he hopes to return to space.
One of his crewmates on STS 133, Alvin Drew, hopes the shuttle in its new home will inspire a new generation of astronauts.
Drew grew up in Washington DC, where he would sometimes sneak out of school to go see the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo capsules.
“And to think that a space ship that I flew, that I was the last one to fly, is going to be sitting in the air and space museum for future kids to sneak out of school and go see, makes me think I’m in a history book somewhere. I think, ‘how did I get to be such an old man?’ I used to dream about doing this, and now, my ship is in a museum.”
After Discovery heads up the Florida coast the shuttle will fly to the DC area and over the national mall before touching down at Dulles International Airport.
I’m Matthew Peddie, in Orlando