Earlier I was watching a Smithsonian documentary about the transporting of the space shuttle Discovery to its final resting place at the Smithsonian Institute.
You know, just casually watching it being flown on the back of this 747. And then…TEARS. BIG TEARS. Like ugly crying.
The space shuttle Discovery was in service for 27 years, from 1984 to 2011. It flew 39 missions, covering 149 million miles. Cumulatively, it spent over a year in space. It was the oldest shuttle still existing - the two that preceded it, Columbia and Challenger, were both lost in in-flight disasters. Discovery flew all the “return to flight” missions following downtime after each of those disasters.
Discovery bore the Hubble into the heavens. It helped construct the International Space Station. It carried John Glenn back into space. And through all that time, it brought all its crews home safely. When the Smithsonian decided to add a shuttle to their collection, they knew they wanted Discovery.
Space shuttles can’t actually fly. They aren’t aircraft, they’re spacecraft. They don’t have any functional sub-orbital propulsion systems. They are launched into orbit via rocket, and return to Earth as a glider. So to get it to its final home, this 747 was custom-made to carry it to Washington, D.C.
I saw it being carried through the sky, and all I could think was it’s okay, Discovery. You did so well. And you’re going to keep doing well. You’ll be somewhere special where you’ll be taken good care of. Kids will come visit you and stare in amazement at you…and maybe one of them will design or fly our next venture into space. You did so much. You flew so far and so long. So just relax for this last trip and let us do the work for once. We got you.
And now I’m weepy again. I JUST HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT THE SPACE PROGRAM OKAY.
The space program was a big part of my growing up. The Challenger disaster is one of my first “big world” memories; the Discovery return to flight launch is another. We went to the Kennedy Space Center so many times when I was a kid, and I loved every trip we made. I had to be dragged out of the Air & Space Museum when my family visited DC. Last year I went to the Adler Planetarium and spent hours in the space flight and exploration section, having goosebumps. It kills me that we don’t have an orbiter program anymore.
When they took Endeavour to Los Angeles, I cried as I watched it going down the streets from LAX to its new home. I don’t know how to put it into words, except to say that when I was a kid, the orbiters symbolized everything that could be, that could happen, bridging now and the future.
So yeah I have powerful emotions about this too.