Following on from my visit to the California Science Centre in Los Angeles to see their new addition the retired NASA Space Shuttle Endeavour (Orbiter Vehicle OV-105), I couldn’t miss seeing one of her sisters, Space Shuttle Discovery (Orbiter Vehicle OV-103) in her new home at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum – Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centre in Chantilly, Virginia.
Discovery was completed in 1983 and first launched by NASA in August 1984 on a mission to place 3 satellites into orbit. The last mission for Discovery was in February 2011 to deliver a new module, equipment and supplies to the International Space Station.
Although the first of the active shuttles to be retired, Discovery ended up being the oldest shuttle in service and completed the most missions (39) and travelled the most distance of any shuttle. The final reading was 238,533,142 kilometres / 148,221,675 miles – apparently that is the equivalent of travelling to the moon and back 288 times!
One of the most significant missions completed by Discovery was to carry the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit in 1990. The images this telescope have provided from beyond the boundary and interference (such as distortion and pollution) of the Earths atmosphere has been invaluable to the science of Astronomy.
She has a very prominent location within the museum and from both at ground level and up high in the walkway gantries you can get an excellent view of Discovery. Space Shuttles are very large and it is great to see one up close to truly appreciate the true scale of Discovery.
Discovery was one of 5 Space Shuttles to serve with NASA on operational space missions. The other operational shuttles were Challenger (OV-099) – first launched in April 1983 and tragically the first shuttle lost in a disaster on January 28th, 1986 with the loss of all onboard;Columbia (OV-102) – first launched in April 1981 and tragically also lost with all her crew on January 16th, 2003 just 16 minutes prior to the shuttles scheduled landing; Endeavour (OV-105) – first launched in May 1992 and retired from space missions in May 2011 and Atlantis (OV-104) the last operational shuttle, first launched in October 1985 and completed her last space mission in July 2011.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centre has one of the best aviation and spacecraft collections in the world. I have been there a couple of times and can thoroughly recommend it to any aviation enthusiast as a must see museum. Plan to spend quite a few hours there too if you want to see it all.