This week marked the arrival of the space shuttle discovery at its final destination. Discovery is now parked in its hangar at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, never to fly again. I’ve rarely seen close-up images of the space shuttle that show its true condition. From afar, it looks white and mostly clean. Like many, I have generally presumed the marks on the spacecraft are cleaned up after each mission.
Apparently, that isn’t the case. The battle scars that cover the exterior of the Discovery will be with the shuttle for the remainder of its days. We can see from the close-up images taken at the official welcome home event for the Discovery; the space shuttle is far from shiny and clean. Honestly, it’s fitting that this workhorse spacecraft that made such significant contributions to science and space be retired in its current and used condition.
The brown marks and discolored heat resistant tiles on the belly of the spacecraft are the result of incredible temperatures that the space shuttle was subject to on reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere. During reentry, the exterior of the ship could reach as high as 1650°C. It was damage to those black heat resistant tiles that is believed to have led to the sad death of the astronauts aboard the Columbia in 2003. In one of the photos, the Discovery is practically touching nose to nose with a test shuttle Enterprise that never went into space.