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Discovery makes high-flying salute

17 April 2012, 16:39

Washington - The space shuttle Discovery soared over the Washington Monument, the White House and the Capitol in a high-flying salute to the US capital on Tuesday.

The world's most travelled spaceship, hitching a ride on top a Boeing 747 jet, took a couple of leisurely spins at an easy-to-spot 1 500 feet around Washington after a flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida

Thousands packed the National Mall in front of the Capitol to watch the pair swoop by.

The shuttle-jet combo was set to land at Dulles International Airport. On Thursday, it will be towed to its permanent installation at an air museum annex in northern Virginia.

Discovery departed Florida's Kennedy Space Centre at daybreak.

Nearly 2 000 people - former shuttle workers, dignitaries, tourists and journalists - gathered along the old shuttle landing strip to see Discovery off. A cheer went up as the plane taxied down the runway and soared into a clear sky.

The plane and shuttle headed south and made one last flight over the beaches of Cape Canaveral, then returned to the space centre in a final salute.

Discovery - the fleet leader with 39 orbital missions - is the first of the three retired space shuttles to head to a museum.

Nasa ended the shuttle programme last summer after a 30-year run to focus on destinations beyond low-Earth orbit.

Private US companies hope to pick up the slack, beginning with space station cargo and then, hopefully, astronauts.

The first commercial cargo run, by Space Exploration Technologies, is set to take place in a few weeks.

For at least the next three to five years - until commercial passenger craft are available in the United States - Nasa astronauts will have to hitch multimillion-dollar rides on Russian Soyuz capsules to get to the International Space Station.

- AP

Tags nasa iss us space

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