Quite a sight, isn't it? That's space shuttle Discovery hitching a ride atop a specially modified 747 known in NASA-speak as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA. I've always loved this eccentric element of the whole shuttle system, the only really practical way to move the orbiters around the country in between spaceflights. In some ways, I find this pairing as awe-inspiring as the shuttle's complete rocket stack. It's so unlikely, so ungainly, so... weird... to see two aircraft mated together like this. And they're both so large. It's incredible to think they could even get off the ground like this. And yet, they did, many, many times.
If you don't know it, the big building in the background is Discovery's new home, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (or, as our Loyal Reader Cranky Robert likes to call it, the Uzzy-Wuzzy). It's an extension of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum located just outside Washington, DC, near Dulles Airport. The Discovery and her SCA flew up there from Kennedy Space Center in Florida this morning, taking the time to do a few "victory laps" around the familiar DC landmarks. Now, this afternoon, the Web is crowded with cool photos from the flyovers, of the shuttle/SCA over the National Mall and the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial, and of course countless American flags. But I thought this one was more interesting than the obvious "photo ops."
One of these shuttle ferry flights passed through the Salt Lake Valley a few years ago, and the shuttle/SCA pair even overnighted on the tarmac at SLC International, but for some stupid reason, I didn't make the time to see them. That's something I will forever regret now that it's all over, just as I regret never seeing a launch or landing in person either. There are only going to be just two more ferry flights: one next week when shuttle Enterprise is transferred from the Udvar-Hazy to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City, and then the final one in September when Endeavour is sent to California. The Girlfriend has suggested we go see one of the ferry flyovers. Actually, she suggested a couple days ago we go see this one, the last flight of Discovery; she said we ought to just hop on a plane and go to either Florida or DC, and god, how I love her for making the suggestion. But as tempting as the idea was, I decided against it. For one thing, last-minute airfare is pretty exorbitant and we frankly have better things to spend our money on right now. But really, honestly, the biggest deterrent was that I just really hate funerals...
Photo credit: NASA HQ