The 747 carrying the space shuttle Discovery on its last flight to Washington DC passed low over the capitol today [April 17, 2012]. Now retired from active duty, Discovery will have a new home at the Smithsonian.
The fleet-leading orbiter with 39 spaceflights has been cleansed of harmful chemicals, safed from internal pyrotechnics, outfitted with replica engines and donated to the Smithsonian to display the ship’s majesty to the public like never before.
You can see a slideshow of today’s flyover here.
But it was also an opportunity for some security theater as James Fallows explains:
Enthusiasts would normally track flights like this via Flight Aware, which for example shows the previous leg of the carrier-and-shuttle’s migration, a trip last week from Edwards Air Force base in California back to the shuttle’s original home on the “Space Coast” in Florida. But the feed of real-time data about progress of today’s flight has been blocked, apparently for “security” reasons. (For now I won’t go into all the reasons why that is the most likely explanation, but it is. You can read this comments thread on Flight Aware.)
Fallows sums it up this way:
Sometime I would like to know who, in NASA or the Smithsonian system, decided on this ceremonial flyby to remind Americans of what we had achieved. I would say: Thanks! “Just awesome.” And sometime I would like to know who, exactly, decided to block flight information in a reflex of “security” thinking. I would say: Let’s get a grip.