<p><strong>Shortly after sunrise Tuesday, the powered-down <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/shuttleoperations/orbiters/orbitersdis.html">space shuttle<em> Discovery</em></a> began its ride into the sunset atop a Boeing 747. </strong></p><p><strong>NASA's longest-serving shuttle, shown above Florida's Kennedy Space Center, was carried north to Virginia's Dulles International Airport, pausing for a victory lap over <a href="http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/city-guides/washington-dc/">Washington, D.C.</a> On Thursday <em>Discovery</em> will roll to its final resting place, a Smithsonian Institution facility near the airport.</strong></p><p>(See <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/04/120416-nasa-space-shuttle-discovery-smithsonian-360-tour-panorama-science/">Space Shuttle <em>Discovery</em> in extreme detail: exclusive new pictures</a>.)</p><p>Even before NASA's final space shuttle mission—an Atlantis expedition last July—workers had begun making <em>Discovery</em> safe for the National Air and Space Museum's<a href="http://www.nasm.si.edu/udvarhazy/"> Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center</a>, draining toxic fluids, disabling flammable fuel cells, and removing other dangers.</p><p>In its time <em>Discovery</em> marked a series of space milestones. The shuttle was the first to dock with Russia's <em>Mir </em> space station, carried NASA's first African-American mission commander as well as the first woman to pilot a spacecraft—and executed the first "return to flight" missions after the <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/01/pictures/110127-challenger-disaster-space-shuttle-25th-anniversary-myths-science-nasa/"><em>Challenger</em> disaster</a>.</p><p><em>—With reporting by Ker Than</em></p>

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Shortly after sunrise Tuesday, the powered-down space shuttle Discovery began its ride into the sunset atop a Boeing 747.

NASA's longest-serving shuttle, shown above Florida's Kennedy Space Center, was carried north to Virginia's Dulles International Airport, pausing for a victory lap over Washington, D.C. On Thursday Discovery will roll to its final resting place, a Smithsonian Institution facility near the airport.

(See Space Shuttle Discovery in extreme detail: exclusive new pictures.)

Even before NASA's final space shuttle mission—an Atlantis expedition last July—workers had begun making Discovery safe for the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, draining toxic fluids, disabling flammable fuel cells, and removing other dangers.

In its time Discovery marked a series of space milestones. The shuttle was the first to dock with Russia's Mir space station, carried NASA's first African-American mission commander as well as the first woman to pilot a spacecraft—and executed the first "return to flight" missions after the Challenger disaster.

—With reporting by Ker Than

Photograph courtesy Glenn Benson, NASA

Space Shuttle Discovery Buzzes D.C. Monuments (Pictures)

On its final flight, space shuttle Discovery soared low over Washington, D.C.—a monumental ending to a record-breaking career.

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