Nightly News | April 17, 2012
>>> there was something special in the skies today from florida north to washington along the east coast . it stopped traffic and it brought people out their homes and offices. it was a final farewell for the space shuttle " discovery ," latched to the top of a 747, flying around as if to waive good-bye on its way to retirement at the smithsonian. turns out " discovery " had one more mission left in it, as nbc 's anne thompson reports.
>> reporter: " discovery 's" sentimental journey to washington began early this morning, taking off from florida's kennedy space center on the back of a 747. flying over its launch pads and beaches where generations watched its liftoffs starting in 1984 .
>> the first flight of the orbiter " discovery ."
>> reporter: " discovery " orbited the earth 5,830 times, logging more than 148 million miles. jay barberie has covered every manned space mission for nbc news.
>> this is the biggest foundation of knowledge that we have built. we're 50 years ahead where we would have been had we not a space program .
>> reporter: " discovery 's" career marked with historic moments. eileen collins flew " discovery ." john glenn the former astronaut and senator, the oldest person to fly in space did so on " discovery ." it helped build the international space station and deployed the hubble telescope . and in times of tragedy, after the disasters of the challenger and columbia, " discovery " led america back into space. it was fitting today that " discovery 's" victory lap brought together christa mcauliffe 's belief that space is for everybody.
>> is that the coolest thing you've ever seen? yeah.
>> reporter: people looked up in awe as " discovery " flew by the monument, the capitol and the white house . a sight so spectacular it stopped traffic on the ground. drew teachers and students out of classrooms, even pilots in the air wanted to see.
>> a 747 with a shuttle on the back is landing -- he's about 15 miles out now from the smithsonian.
>> reporter: " discovery " landed for the final time at dulles airport , a bittersweet moment for janet cavandi.
>> we wanted it to fly for a long time before it touched down.
>> reporter: now " discovery " will have an earthbound role, to inspire a new generation of americans for the exciting adventure of space. anne thompson , nbc news, new