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Space Shuttle Discovery, NASA's Workhorse Orbiter, to Join Smithsonian Today

CHANTILLY, Va. — NASA's most traveled spacecraft, the space shuttle Discovery, is set to become a museum artifact today when it rolls into the Smithsonian.

Discovery, which flew atop a jumbo jet from Florida to Virginia's Dulles International Airport Tuesday (April 17), is due to be towed the short way to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center here this morning (April 19).

The Smithsonian is planning a big "Welcome Discovery" celebration open to the public today to usher in the retired shuttle. Those who come out for the festivities will also be treated to the rare sight of two orbiters facing each other nose-to-nose. The ceremony begins at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) and will be broadcast live on NASA TV.

The current centerpiece of the Udvar-Hazy Center's space hangar is the prototype orbiter Enterprise, which NASA built in 1976 to run test flights of the shuttle design. Though it never reached space, it performed glide landings that paved the way for the next orbiters to fly to orbit. [10 Surprising Facts About Shuttle Discovery]

Enterprise is due to be rolled out of its hangar early Thursday, then park for a photo-op with Discovery when it rolls in. Later in the afternoon, Discovery will be wheeled the rest of the way into the hangar to take up the position Enterprise has vacated.

In addition to catching sight of the two shuttles, visitors to Udvar-Hazy today will find a wealth of space-related activities, including astronaut presentations, hands-on robotics games, solar telescopes to look through, and a make-your-own mission patch station. Visitors can also sign a real space shuttle tire and a banner to welcome Discovery.

Space agency officials will be on hand to discuss what's next for NASA, including the next big rocket in the works and the plan to use commercial spaceships to travel to the International Space Station.

Discovery was one of three space shuttles NASA retired last year. The orbiter flew 39 missions, more than any other shuttle in history, including the trip to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope and the first "return to flight" mission after the Columbia disaster.

Discovery's sister orbiters, Atlantis and Endeavour, will be headed to Florida's Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center and the California Science Center in Los Angeles, respectively.

"As part of the Smithsonian collection, Discovery will bring a richer perspective to the historical and scientific significance of the space-shuttle program, one of our country's greatest achievements," Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian, said in a statement.

The museum is making a special push to bring students and families in to see the space-flown orbiter. Friday (April 20) will be designated as "Student Discovery Day," while Saturday and Sunday (April 21 and 22) will be the "Welcome Discovery Family Weekend." The special activities will run throughout the weekend.

"At the Udvar-Hazy Center, Discovery will be seen by millions of people in the coming years, especially children, who will become the next generation of scientists, engineers, researchers and explorers," said Gen. J.R. "Jack" Dailey, director of the Air and Space Museum.

The Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center and the Air and Space Museum building on the Mall in Washington, D.C. are free and open to the public. To watch Discovery's welcome ceremony live today on NASA's NASA TV webcast, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html