JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After three decades of space service, NASA's oldest and most traveled shuttle, Discovery, headed for a new life as a museum piece Tuesday with one final takeoff.
Discovery left the Kennedy Space Center at daybreak aboard a modified jumbo jet bound for Washington D.C., where it will become a Smithsonian exhibit.
"It's so rich with history that it is especially appropriate that it's here in the Smithsonian," Smithsonian Curator Valerie Neal said. "We consider discovery to be the champ of the shuttle fleet."
Nearly 2,000 people, including former shuttle workers, VIPs, 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. Thousands jammed the shore for a glimpse of Discovery, then returned to the space center in a final salute.
Cheers erupted once more as the pair came in low over the runway it had left 20 minutes earlier and turned toward the north.
A similar flyover took place over the monuments in the nation's capital.
Discovery is the first of the three retired space shuttles to head to a museum. It will go on display at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, taking the place of the shuttle prototype Enterprise, which wasn't equipped for space flight.
The Enterprise will go to New York City. Endeavour will head to Los Angeles this fall. Atlantis will remain at Kennedy.
Copyright 2012 by News4Jax.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.