On this date 5 years ago the space shuttle Discovery first went on display at the National Air and Space Museum’s Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center, next to Washington Dulles International Airport, following its final spaceflight. It’s imposing to see staring back at you as you walk into the gallery. The size of the orbiter is massive, especially when you compare it to every other vehicle that has carried humans into space before or since (most of which have some display version, if not an actual vehicle, either at the Udvar-Hazy Center or at the main facility in Washington, D.C.). The Smithsonian has preserved Discovery as it was following its final mission, still with scorch marks on the outside from its final reentry. I was surprised to see that a lot of the exterior is covered in fabric; only the black part is ceramic tile. Both provided the same thermal protection performance. These pictures are from my visit this past New Year’s Eve.

For more on Discovery’s transfer to the Smithsonian I highly recommend the documentary Shuttle Discovery’s Last Mission. It still shows on TV sometimes (I saw it by chance a few weeks ago), or is available on Netflix.

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