The Space Shuttle Victory Lap

April 18, 2012 , , Carina Thornton
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I have to admit that not much will get me up at 5:00am. The list is usually limited to anything family related or a flight to a nice, sunny place. I rarely do anything for myself at 5:00am. But Tuesday was different. The whole country – if not a large part of the world – had their eye on the Space Shuttle. After almost 3 decades in service, the Discovery was coming to home to enjoy retirement. To be admired. To be gazed at and marveled over. To inspire.

For days I contemplated whether or not to brave the crowds and the traffic and the potential parking nightmare so that I could see the Discovery carried home on the back of a NASA-modified Boeing 747. Surely I could watch this from the comfort of my cozy little couch, far from the commotion. But also far from the celebration. So on Monday I picked up a lens that would practically allow me a peek into the cockpit, packed up my memory cards, batteries, a bottle of water and decided that the Udvar-Hazy Center was the place to be on Tuesday.

I arrived there at 6:00am. Without a car. I was dropped off on the crowded road and walked past several hundred cars to the entrance. I soaked up the sight, felt the excitement start to build, sipped some hot tea while I watched the media pick their perfect viewing location. I found a quiet place in the grass and settled in for the couple of hours we still had to wait. At 9:25am the crowd started to buzz. “20 more minutes!” then “5 more minutes!” Hundreds of cameras were pointed at the horizon. There was near silence. And there it was. 2 bright lights heading in our direction. The sound of helicopters and jets. Closer and closer until the crowd held it’s collective breath in awe. The rumble of the 747 was only matched by the sheer volume of the shutter clicks from hundreds of cameras popping at once.

She flew over us tall and proud and the crowd roared in appreciation as she descended out of sight. It was magical.

Welcome home, Discovery.

If you experienced the arrival of Discovery, please share your story – I’d love to hear it!


  1. Nice shots! It was a pleasure meeting you at the event (I was the one with the 24mm f/1.4). It was definitely worth getting up early for. Love your animal shots too!

  2. Hi Patrick! Thank you so much for coming by! I’d love to see the shots you took as well. Do you have them posted?

  3. I posted several shots on my Flickr account. Link: I can email several via email, too. Let me know. If you have time to spare, check out my “Critters” set on Flickr — like you, I love to photograph animals. I am a member of FONZ, so I take a lot of shots of animals at the zoo.

    1. Cool! I will definitely check it out! Thanks for sharing… see you over on Flickr 🙂

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