Discovery's wheels stop at the Smithsonian

Wednesday - 4/20/2011, 9:31am EDT

Valerie Neal, Curator, Space History Division, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Click below to hear the interview

Download mp3

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

Thirty years in service and 145 million miles later, the space shuttle Discovery will soon make its final trip - this time to the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.

Twenty-one museums and visitor centers around the country put in bids for to display aircrafts as NASA winds down its space shuttle program. The last mission is in June.

The four winners have to come up with an estimated $28.8 million to ferry the shuttles to their final location.

The Udvar-Hazy Center is already home to space shuttle Enterprise and will be moved to New York.

The preparations for Discovery to be museum-ready will take months. The shuttles will reach their new homes sometime next year, said Valerie Neal, curator of the Space History Division at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space museum.

Discovery will arrive in Virginia riding "piggyback" on a Boeing 747, Neal said.

"It's always a big public thrill when a space shuttle comes to town, and this is the last time it will be happening for Discovery and Enterprise," Neal said.

The museum will leave Discovery in the condition of its last flight - minus some components NASA will take - and will not restore it to brand-new condition, she said.

"It is pretty weather-beaten," Neal said.

Discovery will be a "reference vehicle for the future," she said.

"Engineers of the future and historians of the future will undoubtedly come to study the real thing and we'd like it to be as intact as possible," Neal said.

RELATED STORY

Schumer to Houston: 'We're keeping the shuttle' (WTOP)