Mission Log: Seeing Shuttle Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Photos in this post are from Can't I Just Orbit?
There are a lot of places around the country I love for various reasons. I love Pittsburgh for its food and fantastic city culture. Watching the landscape smooth out from a smattering of hills into an endless flat expanse as you pass through Ohio on your way south is a wild experience. And of course, I can’t help but have a soft spot in my heart for Orlando because, well. Something to do with a certain mouse.

Wedged in this list somewhere near the top is Washington, D.C. because, contrary to what I originally thought, D.C. is way more than just monuments and politics. (Although the monuments are pretty cool. Not so sure on the politics.) There is a museum for pretty much anything you could possibly be interested in somewhere in the city, and there’s just so much to see. Combine that with a world of tasty things to try, and you’ve pretty much got me sold.

My personal favorite thing to do while in the city is wander through the Smithsonian museums -- which are also conveniently located within walking distance of many major monuments along the National Mall. There are 19 of them, and 11 of these are located near the Mall, which really helps save time and effort getting from place to place. We typically buy a weekend pass to use the Metro, and just travel in and out of the city this way. Getting to the National Mall by Metro is easy and safe, and saves you a ton of trouble figuring out where to park and what to do with the car. Plus, there are tons of handy apps to help you navigate the stops you’ll need to take. Staying just outside the city can also save you money, too. The “Big 3” Smithsonians (As I call them. In my head. To myself.) include the Museum of American History, the Museum of Natural History, and the Air and Space Museum. These places are huge. You can spend the better part of a day walking through to see everything, and the best part is, there’s no admission fee -- just an optional suggested donation -- so they’re extremely affordable.

Out of all these museums, our favorite has become the Air and Space museum. (“Can’t I Just Orbit?” Astronaut cartoon avatar? Hello!) There is simply so much history here, and being able to see up close actual vessels that have gone as far as outer space is simply mind-blowing. When you see some of the original capsules that early astronauts took to orbit, it’s incredible to think that they traveled so far away and still made it home safely. (An idea which in part inspired the title for this blog.)
This is a real street that exists.
During our last visit to D.C., we made the trek to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex to the Air and Space museum that’s not located with the others along the Mall, but still not so far away as to be unmanageable. We had one mission in mind: to see the Space Shuttle Discovery. If you’re not in the know, the Space Shuttle program was ended recently, and the shuttles themselves have been transported all over the country and put on display. Although NASA has moved on to working on new methods for taking astronauts and gear up to space, it’s still incredible to see the shuttles. Photographs just don’t do them justice. Sure, they look like airplanes -- but Discovery was so big I literally could not fit the entire thing in my camera lens and had to stitch together a panoramic photo. No joke.

If this picture looks wacky, that's because it's a panorama stitched together from multiple photos. The shuttle was just too big to fit.
Even though I’m not quite the space enthusiast my husband Scott is, seeing Discovery was still a weirdly emotional experience. 
I literally gasped out loud when we first saw Discovery. It's very difficult to explain with words, or even photos.
This is what science and engineering can do. This isn’t the future anymore. This is what generated the technology that enables us to have computers, the internet, even cell phones. The computer (or other device) you’re reading this post on now has more computing power than the first shuttle computers had. It’s mind-boggling and still so very cool. It made me feel very strangely proud of my country. Not that I’m not proud of America or being American, but this was like a tangible object that really shows what we can all do if we pull together. Side note: Did you know that NASA’s budget is only 0.5% of the total US budget? Just imagine what scientific and technological advancements we could make if it was increased to even 1%! Okay, I’ll stop gushing about how important science is now. (It’s really important!)
Look at those engines, and THEN look at the people standing below them. They're MASSIVE!
Of all there is to see and do in Washington D.C., the Smithsonian museums easily top my list, both for their value as an inexpensive activity for your roadtrip agenda, and for their importance as an educational institution. If you ever find yourself in the area, do yourself a favor and spend an afternoon walking through one. You won’t regret it.

Happy travels!

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Even more science roadtrip adventures at Can't I Just Orbit?

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