Photographing Shuttle Discovery (Part 3)


For my third (and final) entry on my experience photographing the arrival of Space Shuttle Discovery I thought I’d talk a bit about the history of this particular space shuttle and what it was like to see her arrive. I’ll share a few facts along with my best pictures from a great day of seeing history.

While I was at the National Air And Space Museum (Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center) I had an opportunity to meet a man named Robert A. Adamcik who wrote a great book about Discovery called “Voyages of Discovery”. I’ll be using that book to keep my facts correct in this blog entry.

Discovery, OV-103 (OV for orbiter vehicle) has answered the call to lead the way in space exploration since her first mission (in 1984) all the way to her final flight (in 2011).  She flew 39 missions for a total of 365 days spent in space. She orbited the earth 5,830 times traveling a total of 148,221,675 miles.

Her missions included some of the most important in human space flight including two historic Return to Flight missions after the Challenger tragedy and the Columbia tragedy. Twice she returned a grieving nation to manned space flight.

And on her 25th mission (STS-95) Discovery would return John Glenn to space at age 77. John Glenn became a national hero when he became the first American to orbit the Earth  in 1962. He did this in his Mercury space capsule Friendship 7 (now on display at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC). It seems only fitting that a few days after Discovery’s arrival at Dulles International Airport John Glen would sign the paperwork (as a witness) turning her over to the Smithsonian.

Discovery is a special piece of history for the space program. And she will now rest in the care of the Smithsonian for all time. She has performed every mission we have asked of her will now perform a brand new mission. She will inspire the millions of visitors to dream of what we can all do when we set our minds to a common goal.

The third time I saw Discovery would be the last time she would be airborne. She was coming in for a historic landing to the sounds of cheers. We greeted her like the hero she is.

This final view of Discovery (and her Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft) would produce the best pictures I took of the day. Her altitude was low (almost directly across from me) as she approached. Unlike all of my shots showing her from below, these shots would be almost a perfect profile.

She was close enough for me to capture the names of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft flight crew painted below the cockpit and its completed missions painted behind the forward door (click the image below to see a larger version).

Discovery made a perfect landing and again I took pictures until she was too big for my lens choice. I dropped my camera from my eye and I took in the view along with the incredible sound of the 747’s engines as she passed by.

In the days leading up to her arrival I started to reconsider going (thinking that I could just watch on TV). But my better judgement prevailed and I was rewarded with incredible pictures and an opportunity to be part of history. This day would be my only time to see a space shuttle in fight and a day I’ll never forget.

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