Note: On April 17, 2012, the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum became host to the Space Shuttle Discovery in a monumental event. Discovery was flown from Cape Canaveral on the back of a Boeing 747 and arrived later in the day at the Udvar-Hazy Center to become a permanent part of its collection.
As part of the Smithsonian-wide effort to share this special event with the world, this is the third of three articles featuring a discussion of some of the great personalities and moments of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Few moments rival the spectacular one in which the culmination of thousands of years of scientific and engineering progress resulted in a man stepping onto the surface of the moon. Neil Armstrong (below) summed it up keenly with his utterance, “That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”
After Armstrong walked on the moon on July 20, 1969, there were several years wherein the next goals of the space program were being prioritized. When the moon-targeting Apollo missions came to a close in 1972, NASA projects continued to gain public interest with such scientific missions as Skylab (1973) and—with the Soviet space agency—Apollo-Soyuz (1975).
However, America’s interest in space was truly renewed with the advent of the shuttle program in 1981. For thirty years, the shuttles and their skilled crews kept work apace in space, depositing satellites, executing further scientific experiments, and building a space station in conjunction with the Russian space program and additional international efforts.
“Achievements in spaceflight are the result of determination, ingenuity, courage, creativity, skill, and that unique quality that we all share—the American spirit,” commented General Jack Dailey (right), director of the National Air and Space Museum, as space shuttle Discovery came to rest in its final home at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on Thursday, April 19, 2012.
With Discovery’s retirement, an era of vigorous exploration comes to a close. Discovery’s numbers are stunning; the shuttle flew thirty-nine missions from 1984 to 2011, and the shuttle and its crews orbited the earth 5830 times, traveling over 148 million miles.
Accompanying Discovery on its final journey into the Smithsonian collection and attending the dedication were the statesmen and stateswomen of space, that is, many of Discovery’s commanders, pilots, and mission specialists who took the mighty ship to work thirty-nine times for extended periods over the last thirty years. General Dailey also noted that the day’s proceedings included “one of the greatest gatherings of astronauts in the history of NASA.”
Fifteen of Discovery’s thirty-two commanders were on hand to witness the dedication. Also present was Discovery mission specialist John Glenn, who flew on mission STS-95 from October 29, 1998 through November 7, 1998.
In the spirit of the NASA commitment to exploration and knowledge, Glenn, who piloted Friendship 7 into history in 1962, observed that, “Americans have always had a curious, questing nature that has served us well.”
—Warren Perry, Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery
Neil Alden Armstrong / Robert Theodore McCall / Painting, 2009 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of McCall Studios
John Glenn / Boris Artzybasheff / Tempera, ink and pencil on Masonite, 1962 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time magazine / © Boris Artzybasheff