Space Shuttle Discovery’s Final Mission

CHANTILLY, Va. (CBSMiami/AP) — It was a different kind of flight for Space Shuttle Discovery Tuesday as it hitched a ride from the Kennedy Space Center to Washington, D.C. mounted atop a 747.

The plane soared 1,500 feet over the nation’s capital, gliding over the Potomac River, Reagan Airport and National Mall before touching down at Dulles Airport.

After 39 trips into space, Discovery will be towed Thursday to its installation at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles in northern Virginia.

Before it left Florida for good, the 747 and shuttle first headed south and made one last flight over the beaches of Cape Canaveral, where thousands of people jammed the shore for a glimpse. It then returned to the space center in a final salute. Cheers erupted once more as the pair came in low over the runway it had left 20 minutes earlier and finally turned toward the north.

GALLERY: Shuttle Discovery Makes Final Flight

Discovery flew nearly 149 million miles before retiring last year.

Discovery is the first of the three retired space shuttles to head to a museum. The Enterprise will go to New York City.

Endeavour will head to Los Angeles this fall. Atlantis will remain at the Kennedy Space Center.

NASA ended the shuttle program last summer after a 30-year run to focus on destinations beyond low-Earth orbit. Private U.S. companies hope to pick up the slack, beginning with space station cargo and then, hopefully, astronauts. The first commercial cargo run, by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is set to take place in just another few weeks.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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