Space Shuttle Discovery Placed Atop Jumbo Jet For Its Last Ride

NASA mounted the space shuttle Discovery on a jumbo jet on Sunday in preparation for the retired orbiter’s delivery to the Smithsonian. The paired air- and spacecraft are expected to fly out of Florida for Virginia on Tuesday morning, weather permitting.

Discovery’s mating to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA, NASA’s modified Boeing 747 jetliner, came a day later than the space agency had planned. On Saturday, wind gusts at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility set the 167,000-pound (75,300-kilogram) Discovery swaying under its lift sling, posing a risk that it could impact the Mate-Demate Device, the gantrylike steel structure used to hoist the shuttle onto the jetliner.

Workers reconvened at 5 a.m. ET Sunday to finish retracting the shuttle’s landing gear. They raised the orbiter 60 feet (18 meters) off the ground so that the carrier aircraft could be positioned underneath. Discovery was then lowered onto the jumbo jet’s three protruding attach points to achieve a “soft” mating.

Work continued throughout the day Sunday to secure, or “hard-mate,” Discovery to the 747 before removing the hoist sling and backing the paired vehicles out of the MDD on Monday morning.

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