By Joe Natale
Sometimes you never know where you’re going until you get there.
For instance, my wife and I just returned from our (semi) annual trip out east to visit her family.
We always do something touristy, so we got to thinking and it dawned on us that there was a retired space shuttle in the Washington area. I got to googling and discovered the shuttle Discovery was nearby.
We uploaded the address into the GPS, headed for VA 267 West. A half-dozen speed humps and two tolls later we arrived at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA near the Dulles International Airport. You all remember IAD? It’s the airport that used to have direct flights from SPI.
The center where the shuttle is based is under the Smithsonian Institution, whose budget is facing a proposed $155 million budget cut. Apparently, Congress thinks the Pentagon can better spend the money, no doubt to create future exhibits for the Smithsonian.
The complex is made up of three huge hangars. Among the various aircrafts on display are the Concorde, the supersonic commercial jet; and the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped an Atomic bomb that hastened the end of World II.
The main attraction is the Discovery. The space shuttle is very big, impressive and a little worn for wear; but that is to be expected after 28 years in service, 365 days in space and logging 148,221,675 miles.
Nearby the shuttle was another artifact of the American space program: the Mobile Quarantine Facility. The MQF was the first stop for the Apollo XI astronauts returning from the moon in 1969. The MQF was designed to prevent the spread of any contagions or cooties that may have picked up on the lunar surface.
The MQF is a converted Air Stream trailer with living and sleeping quarters, a kitchen and a bathroom. There was room for three astronauts, a doctor and a housekeeper.
Looking at the MQF, a woman said to the people with her, “I have to get an Air Stream.”
Air Stream!?! I have to get a space shuttle.
Joe Natale is a freelance writer from Springfield.