Countdown: Where to Watch the Space Shuttle Discovery Fly by Washington, D.C.

, former deputy director, Center for Science & Democracy | April 16, 2012, 10:39 am EDT
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Tomorrow morning, weather permitting, we’ll be treated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience: the Space Shuttle Discovery will fly over Washington, D.C. on its way to its new home at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Here are some pointers on how you can best view the shuttle, both virtually and in person. I’ll update this post over the next 24 hours as more specifics become available. I also plan on posting photos from readers who are able to catch a glimpse. [UPDATED with more photos 12:30 p.m. 4/18]

I’ll be joining other UCS staff down on the National Mall on the grass just north of the Washington Monument, where I hope the lack of trees will give us a good viewing location (stop by and say hello if you’re there). Hopefully, my telephoto lens will be big enough for some good pictures, and I’ll be able to figure out how to add them to this post once we see the shuttle.

I’ll be depending on you, too–email me your photos and I’ll get them up on the blog. I’m interested in photos that are of Discovery, of course, but I’m also interested in photos of viewing parties (no matter how big or small your group is!). Show us your NASA and American pride.

Discovery will depart Kennedy Space Center around 7:00 a.m. and will be tethered to the back of a 747. Those lucky enough to spot the shuttle will see something like this (photo courtesy of NASA):

Space shuttle tethered to 747 jet

Discovery and its attendant airplane will fly by at 1,500 feet near several Washington area locations, including the National Mall in DC, Gravelly Point near National Airport in Virginia, and the National Harbor in Maryland, before heading to its final resting place at the Smithsonian near Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

People are encouraged to bring binoculars—you probably won’t be so close as to read the lettering on the side of the spacecraft.

If you aren’t in Washington, or if you want (or need) to watch from the safety of your home or work computer, NASA will be streaming Discovery‘s arrival.

The Smithsonian has more info, as does NASA, which helpfully points out that Discovery has orbited the earth 5,830 times.

Discovery conducted 39 missions, including the launch and maintenance of the Hubble Telescope and several trips to the International Space Station.

UPDATE 5:20 p.m.: This is awesome. National Geographic has posted several insanely cool 360 degree zoomable panoramic images of the inside of the shuttle (including one memorable one of the toilet). They are well worth a look.

UPDATE Tuesday 7:30 a.m.: Discovery is in the air. Another way to watch: WUSA 9 news in Washington will broadcast and stream the shuttle’s arrival live.

UPDATE 8:55 a.m. NASA Television will also stream the shuttle fly by, and you can also access the event live through NASA’s smartphone and tablet applications (thanks to John M. for the tip, I had no idea NASA had developed so many).

UPDATE 10:10 a.m. They got here early and started flying over the Mall a little before ten. Just saw our third flyover. The plane seems to be hitting a good swath of the city. People are clustered all over the lawn around the Washington monument, up and down the Mall, and on top of buildings all over the place. There are squeals of excitement. Photos to come.

UPDATE 11:00 a.m. We had three great sightings of Discovery.  You may use the photos below for non-commercial purposes, but please credit me and link back to this post.

Shuttle and plane

The shuttle was escorted by a fighter jet:

Discovery with figher jet below

Here’s Discovery passing over the White House:

Shuttle passes over White House

John Mitchell of Washington, D.C. gave me permission to share this one that he took:

And here are a couple more from me for your enjoyment:

Discovery with figher jet trailing

The shuttle begins its second approach of the Washington Monument

 UPDATE 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, 4/18: Washington D.C. resident Katie Smithson sent in a great photo from a perspective that I have not seen yet anywhere:

UPDATE 12:45 p.m. Friday, April 27: Bill Ingalls of NASA captured this image of the Space Shuttle Enterprise passing over New York City this morning:

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  • Pete

    Great photos! I was there too! It was awesome to see so many people gathering at the Mall and on top of office buildings to watch the last ride of one of America’s great achievements.

  • Emmanuel Perez

    Fantastic pictures, Michael! I’m glad you shared this picture since I couldn’t be there in person.

  • Michael Halpern

    Thanks everyone. Jayne, you’ll have more opportunities to slobber soon–the Enterprise, currently at Dulles, will be heading up the Hudson River to its new home in New York City in June, and Endeavor will be will be heading to the California Science Center in Los Angeles in the fall.

    NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce had a great story on all three the other night.

  • Jayne Mullins

    Finally home and on my own time I am a like a slobbering fool on my iPhone searching for every photo and video I can. Thank you to those of you who have shared your time, resources, and love for this machine…a love machine extraordinare–bar none.

  • Debbie

    Awesome. Thanks for sharing, Mike.

  • Maggie

    Thank you for the wonderful pictures!!!!!!

  • Carol

    It’s a beautiful day here in Honolulu — but what I wouldn’t have given to see that sight in my former home of D.C. this morning…!

  • Terry

    Thank you for the great pictures! I can only imagine what a sight to see the two amazing aerospace machines flying together.

  • Alex

    Great pictures! Thanks for sharing.