Smithsonian Announces Celebration to Welcome Space Shuttle Discovery

Welcome Discovery
Smithsonian discovery, retired space shuttles, space shuttles, shuttle discovery, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, space shuttles museums, spaceflight (Image credit: Smithsonian Institution)

CHANTILLY, Va. — NASA's space shuttle Discovery is set to land in Washington, D.C. this April, where the now retired fleet leader — the world's most flown spacecraft — will be welcomed by the Smithsonian Institution during a four-day public festival, museum officials said on Tuesday (Feb. 28). 

Flying from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a modified Boeing 747 jetliner, Discovery is scheduled to touch down at Washington Dulles International Airport on April 17, weather permitting. It will then be offloaded by crane and towed to the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, two days later.

NASA retired Discovery and its two sister space shuttles, Atlantis and Endeavour, last summer after 30 years of service.

Taking the place of NASA's prototype shuttle Enterprise, which has been on exhibit at the Udvar-Hazy Center since the museum opened in December 2003, Discovery will be displayed as the centerpiece of the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar surrounded by hundreds of other NASA and space artifacts. [Photo Tour Inside Shuttle Discovery]

Discovery's arrival at the museum will culminate in its title being formally transferred by NASA to the Smithsonian, followed by a grand finale that will symbolize the "launch" of Discovery's new career – "from champion of the shuttle fleet to American icon and educational treasure," according to a Smithsonian statement.

"When NASA transfers Discovery to the National Air and Space Museum, the American people will gain a major icon of space history and an educational treasure to be valued now and for years to come," museum director Gen. J.R. "Jack" Dailey said in a statement. "We invite the public to help us welcome Discovery to the collection of the Smithsonian Institution."

Spot the shuttle

If all proceeds as planned, Discovery will depart Kennedy Space Center on NASA's shuttle carrier aircraft, a Boeing 747, in the early morning of Tuesday, April 17. It will arrive in the Washington area around midmorning.

On the way to Dulles, Discovery will fly over parts of the Washington metropolitan area, however the exact path will be weather-contingent and for security reasons will not be publicized far in advance.

On the day of its final journey, as Discovery flies up the East Coast, the Smithsonian is inviting the public to "Spot the Shuttle" and share their sightings using social media networks and the web. Photos can be posted to the museum's Flickr and Facebook pages, as well as on Twitter using the hashtag #SpotTheShuttle.

People who the spot Discovery will also be able to register on the museum's website for a chance to win VIP seating at the "Welcome Discovery" ceremony on April 19.

There will be no public access to see Discovery land at the airport, but arrangements are being made to broadcast the arrival on the web and through media coverage.

Instead, the best place to view Discovery as it makes its final approach into Dulles will be the parking lot at the Udvar-Hazy Center itself, museum officials said. The lot will open early and visitors are invited to BYOB — Bring Your Own Breakfast — to join fellow shuttle spotters.

Four-day festival

After Discovery touches down at Dulles, it will be taken to another area of the airport, where it will be lifted by cranes off the 747 carrier aircraft and made ready for towing to the museum. That process will take two days.

On Thursday, April 19, the Smithsonian will kick off its four day "Welcome Discovery" festival with a parade. Led by the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and featuring an astronaut escort representing the shuttle's historic flights, Discovery will be towed to the Udvar-Hazy Center and parked outside next to the prototype shuttle Enterprise.

The formal title transfer ceremony will feature Smithsonian secretary Wayne Clough, National Air and Space Museum director Dailey and a representative from NASA. Mezzo soprano Denyce Graves will perform the national anthem and astronauts who launched on Discovery's most historic missions will be introduced during a presentation on the orbiter's achievements.

Discovery will then move into the museum as Enterprise heads off to Dulles. Enterprise will be flown to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City, on a date soon to be announced.

The "Welcome Discovery" festival will continue through the following three days with activities devoted to students on Friday, April 20, followed by a family weekend to feature hands-on demonstrations and the opportunity to autograph a real shuttle tire for future display.

It will take NASA technicians and Smithsonian curators approximately two weeks to prepare Discovery for display once inside the museum. During that time, the public will be able to view the shuttle from the hangar's entrance and from a balcony running the length of the orbiter.

For more information about the Smithsonian’s four-day "Welcome Discovery" festival, see the National Air and Space Museum’s website.

Continue reading at about space shuttle Discovery, NASA's fleet leader.

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.