Welcome Discovery Rogue TweetUp

I’d thought after the space shuttles retired, I’d be done chasing them… but then they announced their “retirement plan” would be moving them to various museums – Atlantis staying at KSC, but Discovery to the National Air & Space Museum’s annex outside of DC, Enterprise moving from there to the Intrepid Air & Sea Museum in NYC, and Endeavour heading out to California somewhere – all traveling via the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), previously used to life Enterprise for test landings and retrieve orbiters that landed at Edwards.

To move a shuttle with the SCA, they tow the orbiter into this giant crane thing and hoist it up, then drive this specially-rigged 747 under it, and lower the orbiter onto the top and attach them. And then they fly the 747 with a frelling space shuttle orbiter on its back to wherever, and reverse the process. Check out the three days of work it took to get Discovery mated to the SCA in this spiffy 2-minute timelapse video!

Seriously, planes playing piggy-back. I had to see that in person. So, I knew I’d be finding somewhere to watch Discovery landing at Dulles, and it turned out the Udvar-Hazy Center, where she’ll be replacing Enterprise, is right next to the airport, and announced they’d be open to the public for watching the flyover and landing, as well as for the official welcome ceremony a couple days later, so I told work I’d be out most of that week and made plans to crash at my cousin’s house!

(There was also an official “NASA Social” (they decided to let Facebook and Google+ count, so can’t call them TweetUps anymore) which I didn’t get into, but that wasn’t going to stop me! (Or anyone else, apparently!))

As ridiculously excited as I was to see Discovery flying in on top of a 747 and hang out with spacetweeps all week, it’s also really sad. Putting these lovely orbiters in museums makes the end of the shuttle program seem real. The final flight was sad, but Atlantis was still intact and flying on her own… but Discovery’s been stripped down, engines and other components replaced with mock-ups, and carried and towed to her final destination… as much as it’s celebrated as a “welcome” or “retirement party,” it kind of feels more like a viewing on Tuesday and a funeral or wake on Thursday… D,: waaaah.

Just have to keep telling myself that it is retirement, and like many old people, she’ll be hanging around in the museum to educate and inspire generations of youngsters to do great spacey things!

Flyover

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We were told they’d do one big, looping flyby for photo ops with various landmarks and monuments before coming in for landing, so we knew we were going to get two pretty nice passes, but didn’t know exactly how close or where, or how much of the landing we’d be able to see. So everybody was terribly excited when we first caught sight of that double silhouette, and it appeared to be heading right for us!

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And then there was a great deal of screaming and cheering as she flew right over our heads!

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We waited excitedly for the piggy-back planes to come back around and land…

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This time around they flew more in front of us than directly over us.

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*squee!*

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At which point we realized the SCA didn’t have her landing gear down, so she couldn’t be landing then, as we’d thought… We were gonna get another pass! We still weren’t completely sure what we’d be able to see when she did aim for the landing strip, but then, after another long loop around, we caught sight of this:

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Sad to think that was the last time we’ll see Discovery flying. 🙁

After that I headed inside to check out Enterprise before they moved her out of her long-time residence, and take a peek around the rest of the museum.

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She looks enormous from this angle!

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...Not so much from this one.

At some point, somebody mentioned we could go up in the tower to the observation deck, so we did, and guess what we saw?!

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Discovery on the SCA! And a passenger plane landing right by them! And over to the left, the crane they'll use to de-mount Discovery!

Swag Swap Dinner

Between the folks that were actually part of the official NASAsocial and the herd of us that just showed up and declared it a #RogueTweetUp, there were rather a lot of space tweeps in the area to welcome Discovery and give Endeavour a proper send-off! We thought we should have one big gathering at some point while we were all more or less in one place, so on Wednesday, the day between Discovery’s arrival and the welcome ceremony, after most folks spent the day sightseeing in DC, we made one massive dinner reservation and took over like half of a lovely Italian restaurant – family style, like the big nerdy space family we are!

Since many tweeps had brought little bits of swag to share, whether extras from prior tweetups or places of employment (NASA centers or otherwise) or other random geeky events, it had been declared this gathering would be the ideal time to swap some swag! (Thanks to @KelleyApril and @LibbyDoodle for organizing everybody and making the reservation!)

Swag Swap Dinner!

Swag Swap Dinner!

Swag Swap Dinner!

Official “Welcome Discovery” Ceremony

The next morning it was back to the Udvar-Hazy Center to welcome Discovery to her new home! I was up and out pretty early, but detoured to pick up @fedward and @EmilyKnits from the Metro, and then some very necessary caffeine from the Starbucks, so by the time we got there Enterprise (and half a gazillion people) were already out behind the hangar waiting for Discovery. I made my way to just about the front, and found AstroTimmy! (and @Stephonee, of course!)

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Soon they began to tow Discovery around from her hiding place…

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Discovery accompanied by a parade of her astronauts!

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...and followed by her support crew.

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She was welcomed by the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Astronaut/Senator John Glenn, other distinguished speakers, and thousands of adoring shuttle lovers!

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Enterprise and Discovery reunited

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*ShuttleSnuggle* Crazy how worn Discovery looks next to bright shiny Enterprise!

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”I

Eventually, it was time to move Discovery into the hangar, so they pulled Enterprise back out of the way, and then towed Discovery in!

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But her tail wasn’t quite lined up right with the taller slot of the hangar door, so they had to back up and try again!

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…and this time, they got it perfectly!

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Popped inside then, and it was too crowded to stay long or see much, but I did get a quick glimpse of Discovery safely tucked into her new home! I’ll definitely have to go back sometime soon (and drag my Dad along) to hang out with this lovely orbiter more, and explore the rest of the museum properly!

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SpaceTweeps are fun!

Most of us were planning to leave Saturday morning, so Friday evening a herd of us gathered once again… not quite as large a crew as the Swag Swap dinner, but a good bunch of very awesome people went out for drinks, and then gelato! And then we just kept chatting outside the gelato place for ages. 🙂

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