Foster took the morning off from work to witness Discovery’s arrival with his wife and 1-year-old daughter, calling it a “living piece of history.”
“It’s never gonna fly again,” said 78-year-old Edith Murray, visiting the Mall from Rhode Island.
Outside National Airport, Kristen Mitchell, 26, of Springfield, was simultaneously excited and sad, having come of age just as the shuttle program waned. “And now I’m seeing the end of it,” she said.
Just as Discovery transitions from trusty space truck to museum showpiece, NASA continues its transition phase. The 30-year space shuttle program ended last year, leaving America without the means to launch people into space for the first time since 1981. NASA now pays the Russian space agency to send American astronauts to the international space station. By 2017, NASA hopes American-built private spacecraft — financed by NASA — will take over the role of orbital taxi.
But for today, the embattled agency got to show off its space hero one last time, a 27-year-old flier whose scorched and dingy siding visually describe her duties.
“She’s old and venerable and has lots of quirks,” said former shuttle astronaut Piers Sellers, who flew on Discovery in 2006. “We had sheets of paper that said, ‘When this alarm goes off, ignore it.’ Or, ‘this fuel gauge doesn’t work.’ She just does that. She had a lot of little quirks, but her heart was solid.”
As Discovery banked around the west end of the Mall for a final pass, the battered white shuttle glowed in a shaft of sunlight, looking large and at ease — a bird with clipped wings just along for the ride.
Staff writers Rachel Karas, Jacqueline Trescott, Stefanie Dazio and Erin Williams contributed to this report.