Piggybacking aboard a massive airplane, the US space shuttle Discovery made a dramatic flyover Tuesday of Washington on it way to its final resting place, a museum outside the US capital.
Riding atop a modified Boeing 747 kept by NASA specifically for transporting space shuttles, Discovery lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, early in the day for its last journey in the skies.
Crowds cheered the shuttle as it began circling over the US capital just before 10 am (1400 GMT), on a half-hour tour before landing at Dulles International Airport.
Tourists wearing shorts on a sunny spring day gathered along the National Mall near the Washington Monument, staring skyward to catch a glimpse of the storied white and black shuttle, which appeared scruffed and grubby from its 39 journeys into space.
Office workers clustered at windows or climbed onto rooftops to see the aircraft and shuttle as they soared low over the US capital's historic landmarks.
Traffic slowed on some of Washington's major roadways as drivers pulled over to gape at the skies, according to some shuttle spotters who reported what they were seeing on the microblogging site Twitter.
A ceremony to mark the official induction of the Discovery at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center outside the US capital in suburban Virginia will be held on Thursday.
Discovery flew its last mission to space in February and March of last year, on a 13-day trip to the International Space Station.
It is the oldest and most traveled craft in the US collection of three space-flying shuttles -- also including Endeavour and Atlantis -- and one prototype, the Enterprise.
Two other shuttles were destroyed in flight. Challenger disintegrated shortly after liftoff in 1986 and Columbia broke apart on re-entry to Earth in 2003. Both disasters killed everyone on board.
Discovery has spent a total of 365 days in space, and flown nearly 149 million miles (241 million kilometers), NASA's mission control said.
Discovery was the first of the three shuttles to retire last year. Endeavour began its final trip to space in April and the 30-year US program ended after Atlantis returned to Earth for the last time in July 2011.
Russia is now the only nation capable of sending astronauts to space aboard its Soyuz capsules.
Private US companies are competing to be the first to fill the gap left by the shuttles' retirement, with SpaceX set to attempt its first unmanned cargo mission to the ISS on April 30.
Another flyover, this time by the shuttle Enterprise, is set for April 23 over New York City, NASA said.
The Enterprise, which had been a centerpiece attraction at the Udvar Hazy Center, part of the Smithsonian museums, until Discovery was assigned to take its place, will pass by the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks, NASA said.
Enterprise is to go on display at New York's Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.© ANP/AFP