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End of an era: space shuttle Discovery does lap of honour over DC news
18 April 2012

An unprecedented aerial show pulled thousands of Washingtonians out of their offices, vehicles and homes at around 10:00 am on Tuesday, all gawking skyward as Tuesday morning as NASA's veteran space shuttle Discovery did a final lap of honour before becoming a museum piece.

Riding on the back of a modified 747, Discovery flew low over the monuments of the nation's capital before landing at Dulles International Airport at 11:00 am en route to its permanent new home with the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum's centre in Chantilly, Virginia.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration reportedly had to lobby hard for permission from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the secret service and other agencies for the flyover, which repeatedly brought the mammoth pair into restricted air space. But it was certainly a PR scoop for NASA, whose space exploration programmes have been blunted by repeated budget cuts.

Before rolling to a stop at Dulles, the visibly singed and scarred spacecraft provided a final but memorable spectacle - a 45-minute fly-around, flying low over the US capital's iconic sights -  the dome of the Capitol, the White House rose garden, the tip of the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian's original Air and Space Museum.

Discovery's last flight although piggyback and well inside the atmosphere provided a photo op to remember for the tens of thousands of viewers gathered on the Mall, atop parking garages and office buildings, on bridges and bicycle paths; and hundreds of other locations. Workers peered out windows and looked up from sidewalks; and motorists pulled to the side of the road to catch a glimpse of the spectacle.

Tourists outside the Smithsonian museums pointed and gawked. Photographers stood on coolers and chairs to get a better view.

Of the four space shuttles introduced by NASA in the early to mid-1980s, Discovery was the third after Columbia and Challenger; yet it has flown the most missions. First launched in 1984, it made its final touchdown at Kennedy Space Center in March 2011 after blasting into space as many as 39 times.

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End of an era: space shuttle Discovery does lap of honour over DC