The space shuttle Discovery arrives atop a jetliner at Dulles International… (Alex Wong, Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — Cheers broke out from crowds gathered on the National Mall. Workers peered out windows and looked up from sidewalks. Motorists pulled to the side of the road to catch a glimpse of the spectacle:
The space shuttle Discovery piggybacking on a modified 747, flying low over the monuments of the nation's capital before landing at Dulles International Airport on the way to its permanent new home with the Smithsonian, at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
"Folks were pretty excited. It was a pretty special moment and a great show," said Adrienne Watson, an aide to Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) who was among the congressional staffers gathered at the U.S. Capitol to watch the historic flyover.
The plane flew at about 1,500 feet but made low passes at Dulles and Reagan airports and Joint Base Andrews during its last air show.
The Discovery is the first of the retired shuttles to be delivered to its final destination after a fierce competition for the four orbiters. Others are headed to the California Science Center in Los Angeles; the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York; and the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
In Arlington County, Va., where teachers took students outside for the flyover, Barrett Elementary School Principal Theresa Bratt said in an email, "The children told me that they wanted to reach up and touch it because it seemed so close."
But for Texas congressmen, the flyover was a bitter reminder that Houston, home of Mission Control, was passed over as a destination for a retired orbiter.
"One of these vehicles belongs at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, not on the Intrepid in NY," Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) wrote on his Facebook page.
A similar flyover is planned for the New York City area next week and Los Angeles perhaps this fall for their shuttle deliveries.