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Space shuttle Discovery ready for voyage to museum

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CAPE CANAVERAL (AP): Space shuttle Discovery has one last mission to complete.

At daybreak on Tuesday, the oldest of NASA's retired shuttle fleet will leave its home at Kennedy Space Centre for the final time, riding on top a modified jumbo jet.

Its destination: the Smithsonian Institution's hangar outside Washington.

The plane and jet will make a farewell flight over Cape Canaveral before heading north. The pair also will swoop over the nation's capital, including the National Mall, before landing in Virginia.

Space centre workers arrived by the busloads Monday at the old shuttle landing strip, where the jet was parked with Discovery bolted on top. Security officers, firefighters, former shuttle workers and even astronauts all posed for pictures in front of Discovery.

The six astronauts who flew Discovery's final space trip a year ago were on hand to bid Discovery goodbye.

Discovery first launched in 1984 and flew 39 times in space, more than any other shuttle. It is the oldest of NASA's three surviving space shuttles and the first to head to a museum.

It will go on display at the Smithsonian's hangar at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, replacing Enterprise, the shuttle prototype that never made it to space but was used in landing tests in the late 1970s.

Enterprise is bound for New York City's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

"It's good to see her one more time, and it's great that Discovery is going to a good home. Hopefully, millions of people for many, many years to come will go see Discovery," said Steven Lindsey, the last astronaut to command Discovery.

"It's also sad ... it's sad to see that the programme is over."

NASA ended the shuttle programme last summer after 30 years to focus on destinations beyond low-Earth orbit.

Lindsey, no longer with NASA, now works in the commercial space industry, helping to develop a successor for launching American astronauts to the International Space Station.

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