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Space Shuttle Discovery goes on display Friday

Tuesday - 4/17/2012, 4:29am  ET

enterprise512.jpg
The Space Shuttle Enterprise is ready to leave the hanger at the Udvar-Hazy Center when Discovery arrives at Dulles. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)

Today marks end of an era

WTOP's Hank Silverberg talks with space flight fans.

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Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

DULLES, Va. - The space shuttle Discovery is poised to head to to its new home at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum annex in Chantilly.

Discovery is being flown in on the back of a 747, transported the same way all of the shuttles for decades have been moved across the country. It will go on display Friday in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, after a two-day process of unloading and moving the shuttle.

"We are going to push Enterprise out of the hanger and pull Discovery into the hanger," says shuttle curator Valerie Neal.

Enterprise, the test vehicle for all of the others, never went into space. It was moved to the museum in 1985 and put on display as its major attraction a decade ago. Since then, more than 10 million visitors have seen the shuttle.

Neal said unlike Enterprise, Discovery will show the wear and tear of a record 39 missions into space.

"Enterprise is pristine-looking, white and black," she says. "Discovery will be beige and gray."

She adds that there are visible streaks on the Discovery.

"You will see that some of these thermal blankets have aged to be more of a beige-tan color," she says.

Discovery was the workhorse of the shuttle fleet, flying more missions than any of the others. Its last flight was in March and April 2011. The first mission started with Columbia in April 1981.

The space shuttle fleet, which also included Atlantis and Endeavour, has retired all of its shuttles. Atlantis, which flew the last mission of the fleet in July 2011, will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Endeavour is headed for the California Science Center in Los Angeles, where it will be put on display.

The Space Shuttle Columbia's last mission ended in tragedy Feb. 1, 2003, when it disintegrated on re-entry over Texas. All seven crew members died.

It was the second disaster for a shuttle mission. Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its mission on Jan. 28, 1986, also killing seven crew members.

In all, the space shuttle fleet flew 135 missions over three decades.

Visitors won't be able to go inside the vehicle, which will be displayed with closed payload bay doors. But there will be a virtual tour of the inside.

"You'll be able to stand at a kiosk and put yourself in the commander's seat," Neal says.

Enterprise will head to New York City, where it will go on display aboard the Intrepid floating museum.

You can view the fly-in from the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, and a number of activities are planned over the coming days to celebrate the shuttle's arrival, including a family weekend April 21 and April 22.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)