Shuttle Hitches Ride For Final Flight

Dominic Waghorn, US correspondent
Sky News

The space shuttle Discovery is flying over Washington on its final flight, piggybacking on a jumbo jet, as it makes its way to a museum in Virginia.

It is the first of the three remaining shuttles to be flown to different corners of the US, drawing to a close an extraordinary chapter in space flight.

Discovery , the leader of Nasa's retired shuttle fleet, left its home at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida for the final time bolted onto the top of the specially adapted plane.

At dawn, the strange double-backed hybrid took off bound for the Washington area after a farewell flight over Cape Canaveral.

There were tears and fond memories as people gathered to prepare to see the much-loved spacecraft take off.

The six astronauts who flew Discovery's final space trip a year ago were also on hand for the emotional tribute.

Discovery was the third shuttle to be built after the ill-fated Columbia and Challenger.

Among its flying feats were launching the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit along with 31 satellites and carrying out research missions with the International Space Station.

It was the first shuttle to be retired after making its final touchdown at Kennedy Space Station on March 9, 2011.

Discovery flew more than 148 million miles and spent a cumulative 365 days in space after its first flight in 1984.

With it, and the rest of the shuttle programme, flew the hopes and dreams of millions on Earth, inspired by what space flight and exploration might bring.

But two catastrophic shuttle disasters took their toll and Nasa's mission has been reframed by the Obama administration.

Repeated low Earth orbit flights are out, replaced by ambitions to fly to Mars and an asteroid. Nasa says it does not have the money to do both.

The shuttles are decades old and the US wants to spend its resources pursuing new technology.

But for many their passing will be seen as symbolic of changing times when America can no longer afford to make bold dreams in space a reality.

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