Bill Readdy, two-time pilot of the space shuttle Discovery, believes there is a bright future for current students of engineering.
“You’re probably hitting it exactly right,” Readdy said. “You’ll graduate. You’ll be able to get into an industry that is doing new things and an opportunity to explore beyond low Earth orbit in the decades to come.”
Last Thursday, professional astronauts, members of NASA, the informal space community and the public — including Virginia Tech’s chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics — gathered to officially welcome the space shuttle Discovery, NASA’s most successful space shuttle, to the Smithsonian Institute Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
Discovery would be replacing the space shuttle Enterprise; a shuttle designed for in-atmosphere tests and never went into outer space, which would be moving to New York City to become an exhibit at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.
“Today, Discovery takes on a new mission; less dynamic, perhaps, but nonetheless important,” said John Glenn, the first man to orbit the globe from outer space. “It will be on display not only as a testament to the events of our time, but also as an inspiration to future generations.”
A Welcoming Hello
The official ceremonies began outside the museum on its runway, with only the Enterprise in view to the general public. Discovery waited, hidden, further down the runway for a much larger premiere with crowds gathered by the thousands to witness the event.
After a few opening remarks by officials from both NASA and the Smithsonian, Discovery was finally brought into the fanfare of the United States Marines Drum and Bugle Corps. For the first time in the history of the space program, two space shuttles stood nose to nose.
Attending the event as special VIPs were 15 of the 32 commanders of the Discovery, including Eileen Collins, who was the first female pilot of a space shuttle and proceeded to command it later in her life. Other astronauts who held various positions on the shuttle, such as Readdy, were also honored.
“I think the word bittersweet is probably overused,” Readdy said in response to how watching the Discovery be retired made him feel. “But having flown Discovery two times, and realizing that its only flown in space 39 times, it seems a little bit sad to see it retired when it was designed to fly 100 missions.”
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially signed over the shuttle to Jack Daily, the Air and Space Museum director. Glenn served as the official witness.