Going Nose-to-Nose with Space Shuttle Discovery and Astronauts
By: Hillary Ossip
Most days you will find us at our desks at Discovery Headquarters. But last Thursday my co-author and fellow Curiosity.com producer Jen Hughes and I had the chance to go out in the field to see history being made at the "Welcome Discovery" event at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA! After the Discovery shuttle's jaw-dropping flyover above the D.C. area on Tuesday (strapped on the back of a 747 no less!), we were beyond excited to get up close with the shuttle and astronauts who flew in it.
By way of introduction, we are part of Discovery's Curiosity.com team, where we interview leading experts from various disciplines to answer life's biggest questions such as "Are we alone in the universe?" Among our experts are several NASA astronauts and Smithsonian folks, including two of the event's keynote speakers: Wayne Clough (Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution) and Charles Bolden (NASA Administrator and former Discovery commander). Needless to say, seeing the Discovery shuttle pass-off from NASA to the Smithsonian was nothing short of exhilarating, particularly with our experts playing such a significant role. Not to mention, we're Discovery...the shuttle is Discovery ...it's like it was meant to be.
Arriving on scene, we giddily received our press badges (emblazoned with Discovery — how perfect!) and headed to where shuttle prototype Enterprise sat waiting to meet Discovery, which was parked around the corner at Dulles Airport. The crowd flowed in as we stood in disbelief by how close we were to the stage and where the shuttles themselves were to sit, nose-to-nose.
There's really nothing like watching a space shuttle slowly creep toward you. We were able to squeeze our way to the front line, capturing the shots you see here and in our photo gallery of the Discovery shuttle event. As Space Shuttle Discovery rounded the corner toward Space Shuttle Enterprise, 14 of Discovery's 31 living commanders walked alongside. Once in place, Discovery, looking tough, travel-worn, and well-loved made Enterprise look like a shiny new toy. We learned that Discovery went on more missions to space than any other NASA shuttle, so its charred exterior is evidence of its multiple encounters with Earth's atmosphere. It is truly awe-inspiring to stand next to a spacecraft that has actually been to space — to see its scars and chars, the burns around the welding, the literal marks outer-world adventures have left on it. As if that wasn't enough, to actually see the astronauts who called it home during their time in space, walking alongside it was indescribable. We couldn't help but feel deeply moved by the historical significance of the moment.
In the wise words of John Glenn: "Today Discovery takes on a new mission, less dynamic perhaps, but none the less important. It will be on display not only as a testament to events of our time, but also as an inspiration to future generations. It will be a symbol for our nation, of space flight that presents optimism and hope and challenge and leadership and aspiration to explore and to excel."