— CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Space shuttle Discovery's chartered ride to retirement has arrived.
The modified-Boeing 747, known as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), touched down at NASA's Kennedy Space Center here on Tuesday. The jumbo jetliner came in from Dryden Flight Research Center in California to ferry Discovery to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where the iconic spacecraft is set to go on public display.
The aircraft landed at 5:35 p.m. EDT on the same runway that Discovery used to return from space for a 39th and final time on March 9, 2011.
In the year since, technicians have prepared the shuttle Discovery for its exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. The orbiter's hazardous materials were removed and some components, such as its three main engines, were replaced with replicas so they could be kept for possible future reuse.
On Saturday, shuttle technicians will use a steel gantry-like structure called the Mate-Demate Device to hoist Discovery and secure it atop the 747 SCA. Weather permitting, the paired air- and space-craft will leave for Washington Dulles International Airport on the morning of April 17. [Photos: Inside Shuttle Discovery, Reporter's-Eye View]
The SCA will not be returning to Florida after dropping off Discovery.
Instead, another shuttle, the prototype Enterprise, will be loaded atop of the 747 at Dulles Airport for its own flight to New York the following week. While Enterprise never flew in space, it was the first to fly on a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for a series of approach and landing tests in the 1970s.
Since 2003, Enterprise has been on public display at the Udvar-Hazy Center. It is being moved to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, a converted aircraft carrier that is berthed in Manhattan, to make room for Discovery.
Weather permitting, the SCA will take off with Enterprise on April 23, flying to John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport. NASA and the Intrepid have yet to release details about sighting opportunities or planned flybys.
After delivering Enterprise, the SCA will return to Florida to wait for its final mission: flying space shuttle Endeavour to Los Angeles this September.
Visit shuttles.collectspace.com for continuing coverage of the delivery and display of NASA's retired space shuttles.