Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Editor’s Notebook: Discovering History
One of the first things I noticed approaching the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center was the helicopters circling overhead. I was running a few minutes behind, and hoping that I wouldn’t miss the first fly-by of the space shuttle Discovery mounted on the back of a modified NASA Boeing 747. After sitting in traffic for a few minutes, the car inched toward the highway exit for the Air & Space museum, which sits adjacent to Dulles International Airport (IAD) in Virginia. As far as Washington, D.C.-area traffic goes, I was making slow but steady progress on Route 28 until hitting the roadblock at the off-ramp to the Udvar-Hazy Center.
After the shuttle faded into the distance, I continued walking up the embankment to find a large crowd gathered along the side of the exit ramp with a great view of the Dulles Airport runway, as well as another police roadblock (that’s as far as I could advance).
As much as the shuttle itself was a draw, the communal nature of people gathering to watch a historic event is something that stuck out to me. Overheard comments included, “It was worth missing school for this, huh?” and “I wish [so-and-so] was here to see this,” as well as, “The shuttle looks dirty,” and the classic, “That was awesome!” One person brought takeout food. Another took a cab straight from the airport, luggage and all. People all around the region stood on the rooftops of office buildings, hoping to catch a glimpse of the unique sighting.
Newsgathering and police helicopters grew in number as the shuttle started to make its way back from D.C. After numerous false warnings that involved the raising of hundreds of cameras, tablets and smartphones, the shuttle returned to Dulles for a second pass. This time I was ready, snapping away as Discovery and its military escort flew the missed approach.
The whole event lasted an hour, but offered an up-close view at a significant moment in aviation history.
Visit Aviation Today for more photos of the Discovery space shuttle landing.