After decades of missions, almost a year in space and soaring nearly 149 million miles through the heavens, Discovery—NASA's last space shuttle—made its final voyage on the back of a Boeing 747 to Dulles International Airport on Tuesday.
Hundreds of people on the roof of a parking garage at Dulles greeted Discovery with cheers of excitement and awe as it soared past an American flag on its first flyover of the metropolitan area. Several small children jumped up and down, waving their arms. A retired Air Force pilot eagerly scanned the horizon with a pair of binoculars, as his daughter perched on a small concrete column to get a better view.
Many were well aware that the flight marked the end of an era, such as sixth-grader Lindsay Yentz, an avid NASA fan who keeps a photo of a shuttle lift-off in her room.
"My dreams will never come true because I wanted to be an astronaut, but since the American space shuttle isn't going up anymore, I can't go up," said Yentz, who woke up at 6:30 a.m. to travel with her family to Dulles from Bristow.
Yentz can set her sights on a new dream, though. NASA has retired the space shuttle fleet so it can send astronauts to an asteroid around 2025. They hope astronauts will reach Mars sometime near the year 2030.
Photo Gallery: Space Shuttle Discovery
Near the edge of the parking lot, Jen Robertson, of Chantilly, waited for sight of Discovery with her sons Charlie, 8, and Henry, 2, who wore Boeing 747 T-shirts. Like many parents, she took her oldest son out of school for a few hours so he could catch sight of Discovery.
"My big kid is an aviation enthusiast, so we've been to the Smithsonian many times," She said. "He is quite the airplane kind of guy."
Discovery made three flyovers of the metropolitan area before landing at Dulles at 11:05 a.m. Its final resting place will be at the Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, which has several days of festivities planned.
Scott Paisley of Ashburn, took time off of work so that he could see the shuttle as it flew overhead.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, right? I think it's a very defining moment in the fact that—what a gorgeous day, a great way to kind of end a legacy, really," said Paisley. "It's something that's the heart and soul of the nation, and I think it's really important to recognize that it's something amazing that we accomplished. Looking forward to see what we do next."