CHANTILLY, Va. -- The space shuttle Discovery was officially welcomed to its new home at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Va. April 19 during an exuberant ceremony in front of hundreds of camera-in-hand spectators and video novices.
The world's most traveled spaceship had hitched a ride on top of a Boeing 747 jet earlier in the week and soared over Washington, D.C.'s National Mall in a salute to the nation's capital. Discovery - the fleet leader with 39 orbital missions - is the first of the three retired space shuttles to head to a museum.
It takes the place of the shuttle prototype Enterprise, which now heads to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. Shuttle Endeavor will head to Los Angeles this fall, while Atlantis will remain at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
More than two dozen of the astronauts who flew on Discovery attended the ceremony, including NASA Administrator Charles Bolden; NASA's first woman shuttle commander, Eileen Collins; and retired U.S. senator and former space astronaut John Glenn. He was the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962 and, at the age of 77, became the oldest person to fly in space while aboard Discovery in 1998.
"Discovery now takes on a new mission. It will be on display as a testament to the events of our time, but also serve as an inspiration to future generations," Glenn told the audience. "Discovery stands as a symbol of our great nation. It's a symbol of optimism, hope, challenge and leadership. It symbolizes an aspiration to explore and excel."
NASA ended the shuttle program last summer after a 30-year run to focus on destinations beyond Earth's lower orbit. Discovery ended its last mission to space in March 2011. For at least the next three to five years - until commercial passenger craft are available in the United States - NASA astronauts will hitch multimillion-dollar rides aboard Russian Soyuz capsules to get to the International Space Station.
Michelle Reardon, a resident of Hershey, Pa., drove a little more than 130 miles along with her eight-year-old son, Jason, to see the space shuttle up-close. She said it's a day they'll never forget.
"This is a special day in our history and I needed to be here with my son to experience it. I grew up watching the space shuttle on television and it's sad to know it's all coming to an end," Reardon said. "Despite that, I'm excited to think about what lies ahead. We're starting a new chapter in space exploration. Today is page one."