They toured the Capitol. They met a Holocaust survivor. They saw Thomas Jefferson’s library and the star spangled banner. They stood where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke “I have a dream” and rerouted their path when roads closed for President Obama’s return to the White House. The eighth grade students of LaGrange Middle School had quite an exciting, educational adventure in Washington D.C., but before they returned to New York they had one more sight to see: the Discovery Space Shuttle.
The Discovery is housed in Chantilly, Virginia at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the companion facility to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. Together, the two facilities house the largest collection of aviation and space artifacts in the world. The Udvar-Hazy Center certainly has a different look and feel compared to the museum on the National Mall. The center is a hangar, essentially a large warehouse with cement floors, with aircraft suspended from the’s trusses and displayed on the ground level. Planes landing at Dulles International Airport consistently appear in the windows. The Discovery is in the James S. McDonnell Space Hanger, where visitors can get a close view and walk around all sides of the space shuttle.
Gazing up at the Discovery, you can’t help but be impressed. To know that this is the spacecraft that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope, that launched the Ulysses spacecraft to explore the sun’s polar regions, and that deployed the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) is truly incredible. The Discovery blasted to space more than any other NASA spacecraft, for a total of 39 times, with its last spaceflight in March 2011.
It traveled to the Udvar-Hazy Center atop a modified Boeing 747 on April 17, 2012. But before arriving at Dulles, it flew for 45-minutes over Washington D.C., passing the White House rose garden, the Capitol, the Washington Monument.
The retirement of the Discovery marks an end to the shuttle era. However, its presence at the Air and Space museum will continue to inspire students and visitors for years to come. The students of LaGrange Middle School were among the earliest to see the Discovery at its new home. Now, having completed their D.C. journey, the students could happily return to New York.
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