CollectSpace.com / Robert Z. Pearlman
NASA's modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft lands at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Tuesday.
By Editor, CollectSpace.com
updated 4/10/2012 8:14:44 PM ET 2012-04-11T00:14:44

Space shuttle Discovery's chartered ride to retirement has arrived.

The modified-Boeing 747, known as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA, touched down at NASA's Kennedy Space Center here on Tuesday. The jumbo jetliner came in from Dryden Flight Research Center in California to ferry Discovery to the Smithsonian in Washington, where the iconic spacecraft is set to go on public display.

The aircraft landed at 5:35 p.m. ET on the same runway that Discovery used to return from space for a 39th and final time on March 9, 2011.

In the year since, technicians have prepared the shuttle Discovery for its exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. The orbiter's hazardous materials were removed and some components, such as its three main engines, were replaced with replicas so they could be kept for possible future reuse.

On Saturday, shuttle technicians will use a steel gantrylike structure called the Mate-Demate Device to hoist Discovery and secure it atop the 747 SCA. Weather permitting, the paired air- and space-craft will leave for Washington Dulles International Airport on the morning of April 17. [Photos: Inside Shuttle Discovery, Reporter's-Eye View]

Look up! It's a bird and a plane...
The SCA will take to the air on what will be its 806th flight in service to NASA — 218 with a shuttle on its back, and 38th trip carrying Discovery — and fly south. Weather permitting, spectators at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and along Cocoa Beach will get a clear view of the piggyback orbiter before the flight continues on up the Eastern Seaboard.

The exact flight plan is contingent on weather, but once over the nation's capital, the SCA will fly Discovery about 1,500 feet above various parts of Washington.

"The aircraft is expected to fly near a variety of landmarks in the metropolitan area," NASA said on Monday, "including the National Mall, Reagan National Airport, National Harbor and the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center. When the flyover is complete, the SCA (with Discovery) will land at Dulles International Airport."

According to the Smithsonian, the 747-Discovery combo is expected to make a low fly-by of the airport at 10 a.m. ET, and will touch down about 40 minutes later. The SCA is expected to roll to a stop on the tarmac just before 11 a.m. ET.

In addition to spotting the shuttle as it flies overhead, the museum has invited the public to view the final approach from the parking lot of the Udvar-Hazy Center. Then, two days later, on April 19, the public is invited to return for an arrival ceremony, which will kick off a four-day "Welcome Discovery" festival.

Shared ride
The SCA will not be returning to Florida after dropping off Discovery.

Instead, another shuttle, the prototype Enterprise, will be loaded atop of the 747 at Dulles Airport for its own flight to New York the following week. While Enterprise never flew in space, it was the first to fly on a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for a series of approach and landing tests in the 1970s.

Since 2003, Enterprise has been on public display at the Udvar-Hazy Center. It is being moved to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, a converted aircraft carrier that is berthed in Manhattan, to make room for Discovery.

Weather permitting, the SCA will take off with Enterprise on April 23, flying to John F. Kennedy  International Airport. NASA and the Intrepid have yet to release details about sighting opportunities or planned flybys.

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After delivering Enterprise, the SCA will return to Florida to wait for its final mission: flying space shuttle Endeavour to Los Angeles this September.

Visit shuttles.collectspace.com for continuing coverage of the delivery and display of NASA's retired space shuttles.

Follow collectSpace on Facebook and Twitter @collectSpace and editor Robert Pearlman @robertpearlman. Copyright 2012 CollectSpace.com. All rights reserved.

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Timeline: Space shuttle timeline

Photos: Space shuttle Discovery highlights

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  1. The space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center on its maiden trip into space, Aug. 30, 1984. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Mission specialist Richard M. Mullane shaves on board the shuttle Discovery on its maiden voyage STS-41D, on Sept. 1, 1984. (NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Discovery climbs into orbit after launch on July 26, 2005, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The seven-person international crew departed for a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. (Bob Pearson / AFP / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. First lady Laura Bush applauds during the liftoff of Discovery on July 26, 2005, in the stands at the Kennedy Space Center's Banana Creek viewing site in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, right, and Deputy Associate Administrator Michael Kostelnik, left, watch the Discovery launch from the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 26, 2005. (Bill Ingalls / AFP / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Tourists cheer at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at the sight of the space shuttle Discovery lifting off on Tuesday, July 26, 2005. (Scott Audette / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Astronaut Stephen Robinson, anchored to a foot restraint on the International Space Station's Canadarm2, participates in the mission's third spacewalk on Aug. 3, 2005. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. NASA employee Melinda Smith watches from Cape Canaveral, Fla., as the Discovery touches down at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Aug. 9, 2005. Unfavorable weather conditions in Florida caused NASA to switch landing sites to the base. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Chigasaki residents celebrate the U.S. space shuttle Discovery's safe return to Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert on Aug. 9, 2005, at Hamasuka Junior High School in Chigasaki, west of Tokyo. Chigasaki is the hometown of Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, one of seven crew members. (Koji Sasahara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The crew of mission STS-114 -- mission specialist Stephen Robinson, commander Eileen Collins, mission specialists Andrew Thomas, Wendy Lawrence, Soichi Noguchi and Charles Camarda, and pilot James Kelly -- gather in front of Discovery after their landing on Aug. 9, 2005, at Edwards Air Force Base in California. (NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Discovery's nose landing gear was photographed by the crew on the International Space Station on July 28, 2005, as it did a pitch maneuver for tile inspection before docking. The crew of Discovery moved onboard the space station after carrying out new shuttle damage checks as ordered by NASA after a suspension of flights over safety concerns. NASA halted the program again after Discovery's return because of debris that fell off during its launch. (Nasa Photo / AFP / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Discovery hitches a ride from California to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a special 747 carrier aircraft on Aug. 19, 2005. The shuttle landed in California on Aug. 9 as weather conditions prevented it from landing at Cape Canaveral, Fla., as originally planned. Discovery's mission was the first flight for the shuttle since Columbia broke upon re-entry in February 2003. (Lori Losey / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Astronaut Piers J. Sellers, STS-121 mission specialist, wears a training version of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit while participating in a simulation at Johnson Space Center. The RMS has a 50-foot boom extension, called the Orbiter Boom Sensor System, attached. It would be used to reach beneath the orbiter to access tiles. Lora Bailey, right, manager of JSC Engineering Tile Repair, assisted Sellers. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Workers observe the Discovery before it begins its six-hour trek from the vehicle assembly building to Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 19, 2006. (John Raoux / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. In the White Room on Launch Pad 39B, STS-121 mission specialist Thomas Reiter of Germany, representing the European Space Agency, gets final adjustments made to his launch suit before entering Discovery at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on June 15, 2006. (NASA via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Mission specialists Michael Fossum and Thomas Reiter; pilot Mark Kelly' commander Steven Lindsey; and mission specialists Lisa Nowak, Stephanie Wilson and Piers Sellers conclude emergency egress practice on June 15, 2006. This was during Terminal Countdown Demonstration Tests, a launch dress rehearsal that occurs before each shuttle mission. (NASA via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Astronauts Thomas Reiter of Germany and Piers J. Sellers and Stephanie D. Wison of the U.S., all STS-121 mission specialists, train in advance of their launch on July 1, 2006. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. NASA spokesman Bruce Buckingham listens as John Shannon, NASA's deputy space shuttle program manager, points to a location on a model of the external fuel tank where a piece of foam insulation broke away from Discovery. The mishap was explained during a news conference on July 3, 2006, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The Discovery lifts off on another mission from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on July 4, 2006. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Self-portrait, taken by astronaut Michael Fossum on July 8, 2006, during a spacewalk while the Discovery orbiter was docked with the International Space Station. Turning his camera to snap a picture of his own helmet visor, he also recorded the reflection of his fellow mission specialist, Piers J. Sellers, near center of picture, and one of the space station's gold-tinted solar power arrays arcing across the top. The horizon of Earth is in background. (Michael Fossum / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The nose of Discovery and part of the underside is seen over Earth on July 6, 2006. NASA engineers examined detailed pictures of the space shuttle's heat shield a day before two astronauts were to embark on the most disorienting task of their 13-day mission: a wobbly spacewalk. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The sun illuminates the Earth's atmosphere during a sunrise, seen from the Discovery after departure from the International Space Station on Aug. 6, 2005. A portion of the shuttle's aft cargo bay, its vertical stabilizer and orbital maneuvering system pods are seen in the foreground. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A lightning bolt crackles down in the distance on Aug. 14, 2006, during preparations at Edwards Air Force Base in California to return the shuttle Discovery to its Florida home base. The gantry-style structure surrounding Discovery is used to mount the shuttle atop a modified Boeing 747 jet for a cross-country piggyback flight. (Tom Tschida / NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Discovery lands at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on June 14, 2008. The shuttle completed a 14-day mission to the International Space Station, where it delivered the Japanese Kibo module. The STS-124 mission also included three spacewalks. (Justin Dernier / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Discovery approaches the International Space Station during rendezvous and docking operations on June 2, 2008. The second component of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory, the Japanese Pressurized Module, is visible in Discovery's cargo bay. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A woman kicks back as she watches from Titusville, Fla., as the space shuttle Discovery launches from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on May 31, 2008. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. With Earth as a backdrop, Discovery approaches the International Space Station during STS-133 rendezvous and docking operations on Feb. 26, 2011. Discovery, on its 39th and final flight, carried up the Italian-built Permanent Multipurpose Module, Express Logistics Carrier 4 and Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space. (NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. AP
    Above: Slideshow (27) Shuttle Discovery's historic career
  2. Image:
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    Slideshow (12) Month in Space: January 2014

Video: Discovery's final journey home

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