Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Discovered Discovery and Ambivalent Duck

The space shuttle Discovery made 39 missions to space in 27 years and made its last trip to space last year. Yesterday it was flown from Florida to the Smithsonian Air and Space museum by Dulles airport here in Virginia. There's a cool history of the shuttle in pictures here and of the space shuttle era here.

Everyone was buzzing about where the best place to see it flying over would be. At first I planned to take the boys to a park near the airport to watch it come in with some friends. Then I read somewhere that the best place to see it would be the parking lot of the museum. Then the night before I saw on the news that it was going to circle the Capitol, White House, and the monuments downtown and never be very high off the ground. On a wild and crazy mom-whim, I decided to change plans and not pay the $15 to park at the museum and watch it in the parking lot, but instead to head downtown to see it in a free and more scenic setting. 

On the metro ride in, I read that the best place to see it would be the west side of the Capitol, east side of the Washington monument. I have no idea how they made those assertions, but I was clearly deeply affected by everything I read for some reason. We stayed on the metro a little longer than I had planned and got off right at the Capitol. We met Uncle A, who came bearing a bagel for the boys and coffee for me.  

After strolling to the front of the building, we decided to go ahead and camp out there. Plenty of people had gathered, including some punk school kids who thought it was hilarious to every once in awhile gasp together and point to the sky to confuse everyone. Workers from the Capitol building poured out on the terraces (if that’s what they’re called), waiting for the sighting. We met some friends there and sunblocked all the kiddos and hung out. We could see people on top of buildings all around us. It was kind of a goosebumpy, unifying experience there for awhile, as we all just waited expectantly for the flyover. There were news cameras with chunky microphones, toothy field trip students in matching lanyards and braces, and perfectly-dressed Capitol Hill staff.  The occasional nerd in a space shuttle shirt. An elderly couple telling their life stories to the polite PBS reporter. Everyone waiting.

We saw the plane with the shuttle on it coming in from the north, but it didn’t get terribly close and then just went down the river toward Alexandria. Certainly that wasn’t the “circle around the National Mall,” right? Everyone stuck around, so we knew either it wasn’t, or they had changed plans and disappointed a lot of people who expected to see much more of it. After awhile we saw it coming by again, this time clearly heading toward us. Aaron and I were each holding a boy and at several points I tried to take a video on my camera, but it makes me sick to even look at the footage, it’s so shaky. I got a couple decent pictures, but nothing great. Mostly I hope the boys remember coming to see the space shuttle fly in, and the excitement it created. They are so obsessed with everything space related, that I wanted to make sure to make the effort to get them to see it.

There are a bunch of great videos of the shuttle flying over and landing, and some awesome pictures. Here's a good quality, short montage of its flight. I saw pictures of people stopped everywhere looking skyward. A friend said her husband pulled over with all the other drivers on major road in the area and someone invited him to sit on top of his car and watch it with him and some other guys. So great.

After the space shuttle excitement we took in the insect zoo at the Museum of Natural History, where the boys touched a caterpillar, watched a tarantula eat a cricket, crawled like ants through a pretend dirt tunnel, laughed at bee poop, and enjoyed that part of the museum more than they have before. We got ourselves some Ollie’s Trolley grub, this time with our real friend Ollie, his sister Ella, and their parents. With Ollie at Ollie’s!

I’m excited for this weekend at the Air and Space museum. They have all kinds of festivities surrounding the arrival of Discovery. (Read about them here.) The Space Shuttle Enterprise is the shuttle that has been on display here that is moving up to New York since we get the seasoned, historic Discovery.Enterprise has never been to space. At some point tomorrow Enterprise and Discovery are going nose-to-nose in a passionate space shuttle kiss. I'm actually not joking about that.



Just waitin' on the steps

Awesome. Shirt.

The boys and me

Waiting with space shuttle picture on the newspaper


The Capitol empties

Everyone stares

Here it goes across the Mall

Coming around (notice people on the buildings)

....and more people on buildings

Woohoo! Piggybackin' 

Circling around again

The fountain for afterward entertainment

The ambivalent fountain duck that slept through it all


  1. I'm a dummy; I was downtown and totally forgot to go outside. I love the photo of the employees outside at the Capitol!

  2. See, you clearly don't spend enough time at the Capitol, because that was the lowest I've seen a plane fly over the mail in, oh, ten years or so! :) Also, you should have stopped by to say hi. Also, I like to think I was one of those "perfectly-dressed Capitol Hill staffers" watching from the sidewalk by my building, except that I'm out of shirts that completely cover my belly and the only shoes that fit my elephantine feet are flip-flops. Not so perfect...

    1. I feel so dumb for not connecting with you, Missy! I was thinking we'd go to the Washington Monument to watch and then we ended up at the Capitol close to you...bad friend. Sorry. I'm sure you were nearly-perfectly dressed. Also, flip-flops ARE perfect. Always.


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