During a week that’s already been spent commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 16 mission, Washington, DC got an up close and personal view of the retired Space Shuttle Discovery as it piggy-backed atop a Boeing 747 to its final landing at the Smithsonian. After a combined total of 365 days in space, 39 missions and 27 years of service, Orbiter Fleet leader Discovery is closing the last chapter on NASA’s space shuttle era. Discovery’s final space flight was completed on March 9, 2011, when it returned from its delivery mission to the International Space Station.
“It’s sad to see this happening,” said NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, a member of Discovery’s final crew. “But you look at it and you just can’t help but be impressed by it. That’s my hope now, that every time someone looks at that vehicle they are impressed, that they feel that this is what we can do when we challenge ourselves.”
Discovery brought each of her crews home safely, so it’s only fitting that she was taken to her final home with so much fanfare. The end of the shuttle era sparked a feeling of nostalgia across the United States and much of the rest of the world when the final mission was completed by Atlantis on July 21, 2011. NASA has provided us with decades of scientific advancements, education, inspiration and a long line of heroic men and women willing to be propelled into space on the back of a rocket for the sake of advancing what we know about both our world and what lies far beyond it.
Perhaps instead of looking at it as the closing line to an exceptional book, it should be viewed as the end of the first chapter of something even more exciting – NASA has made it clear we can expect even greater things from them in the future.