I've always been a bit of a Space Geek. When the Shuttle program started, I watched Nichelle Nichols (Uhura on the original "Star Trek") encourage me to "Fly the Enterprise!" I sent away for the information packet and was so discouraged to find out that my poor eyesight would eliminate me, and even if I could overcome that, it required an awful lot of math knowledge, which I also did not have. Oh well. Still, I watched with bated breath as the Enterprise took its first baby steps, separating from the 747 and gliding in for its first landing on August 12, 1977.
This morning, I headed for the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center, next to Dulles Airport, to get a front-row seat for the arrival of the shuttle Discovery. I had never been able to make it to a live launch, so I knew this would be my last chance to see a shuttle in the air!
Bob, Ian and I arrived at the center about half an hour after the gates opened, and found ourselves in one of the very last open spots. The place was packed! Because the museum wasn't open yet, everyone was outside. Luckily the weather was very pleasant.
Every possible viewing spot was packed with people, including the tower:
I'm assuming these were employees and VIPs. I would have given my eyeteeth to be on top of that tower!!
We knew there would be two fly-bys visible from our vantage point. The 747 carrying the Discovery was due to make a "missed landing" at Dulles at around 10:30, and would then spend about 40 minutes buzzing around downtown DC before returning to Dulles to land.
Here's the first fly-by:
Once its sight-seeing tour of the National Mall was done with, it came back to Dulles:
It was supposed to land on this pass, but I guess the pilots were reluctant to end the trip, because it pulled up and circled around again! This turn took a good ten minutes... the plane's turning radius is not exactly tight. But finally it came round again, landing gear down, and touched down at Dulles.