Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
People gather at the base of the Washington Monument to watch as the U.S. space shuttle Discovery, on the back of a NASA 747 transport jet, flies over the National Mall on its way to its permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, April 17.
Jim Bourg / Reuters
The space shuttle Discovery, riding atop a NASA 747 transport jet, does a final fly-by over the White House as tourists an Washingtonians watch and take pictures in Washington, April 17. Discovery will go on display at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center.
Win Mcnamee / Getty Images
Space Shuttle Discovery, mounted atop a 747 shuttle carrier aircraft, flies over the U.S. Capitol during a flyover of the nation's capital on its final trip to its retirement place April 17, in Washington, DC. The longest-serving orbiter in the space shuttle fleet was flown from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the Washington, DC area to be transferred to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and will be placed on display in the museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
Michael Reynolds / EPA
The Discovery space shuttle, mated with a Boeing 747 carrier aircraft, flies over the Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, USA, 17 April 17. NASA and Smithsonian officials will officially transfer Discovery to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center during a ceremony 19 April 2012. Discovery is the longest-serving orbiter in the space shuttle fleet.
Mark Wilson / Getty Images
The space shuttle Discovery rides atop a Boeing 747 as it flies past Washington, on April 17, in Arlington, Virginia. The retired shuttle was traveling to the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, where is will go on display. This photograph was taken at the Top of the Town in Arlington, Virginia.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images
The NASA space shuttle Discovery is seen from the White House's North Lawn as it is flown over Washington, DC April 17. The space shuttle was carried by a modified 747 aircraft from Kennedy Space Center to Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia where it will spend its retirement after 39 missions.
Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images
People stand on the roof of the US Labor Department as US space shuttle Discovery sitting atop NASA's 747 shuttle carrier aircraft flies by in Washington,DC on April 17, as it arrives from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to be displayed at the National Air and Space museum near the US capital.
Joe Skipper / Reuters
The space shuttle Discovery, attached to a modified NASA 747 aircraft, takes off headed for its final home at The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 17.
Joe Skipper / Reuters
Photographers look on as space shuttle Discovery (above) is approached by a NASA 747 aircraft being towed into the Mate Demate facility at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 15, 2012. Discovery was later mated with the aircraft and is expected to be flown to its final home at The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia on April 17.
WASHINGTON — The space shuttle Discovery, NASA's fleet leader and the world's most flown spacecraft, lifted off for the last time on Tuesday to be delivered to the Smithsonian for its permanent display.
Discovery took off atop NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified Boeing 747, leaving the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:58 a.m. ET, just after dawn, for Washington. The ferry flight was expected to take about three and a half hours.
After a spectacular air show, the space shuttle is now ready for retirement at the Smithsonian. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.