Changing Planet

Space Shuttle Discovery’s Salute to the National Mall

Photo by David Braun


We knew Discovery had arrived when the large crowd waiting on the National Mall for the historic final flypast of the iconic Space Shuttle let out a collective cheer. The spacecraft was bolted to the top of a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft Boeing 747 flying low along the Potomac River, following the flightpath familiar to Washingtonians as the regular approach for aircraft into the capital city’s Reagan National Airport.

Thousands of people were gathered to see this last flight of Discovery, en route to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum alongside Dulles International Airport in Virginia. The early morning sun was bright and many people stood in the shade of the trees alongside the grassy center of the Mall. Hundreds of families and school groups had come to witness this moment of space history.

When Discovery and its carrier came back into view the crowd again applauded. One youngster near me squealed, “This is so magic.”


Photo by David Braun


Photo by David Braun


Photo by David Braun


The jumbo jet rumbled some 1,500 feet overhead, making a couple of giant lazy loops around the Capitol, White House, and America’s most beloved monuments. Thousands of cameras followed its every turn.

Along its way around the Mall, Discovery passed Arlington National Cemetery, where there are memorials to the crews of Challenger and Columbia, two spacecraft lost tragically during the Space Shuttle program.


Space Shuttle Discovery flies by the Smithsonian Castle. Photo by David Braun.


Discovery flew past the Capitol a couple of times, seemingly in a nod to the Congresses that had financed the Shuttle program. And then it turned away, crossing the Potomac one last time for its final landing — and the end of a remarkable journey through space and time.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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Photos by David Braun

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media.

Assignments in 80 countries/territories included visits to a secret rebel base in Angola, Sahrawi camps in Algeria, and Wayana villages in the remote Amazon. Braun traveled with Nelson Mandela on the liberation leader’s Freedom Tour of North America, accompanied President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton to their foundation’s projects in four African countries and Mexico, covered African peace talks chaired by Fidel Castro in Havana and Boutros Boutros-Ghali in Cairo, and collaborated with Angelina Jolie at World Refugee Day events in Washington, D.C. As a member of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, and media representative to the Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration, he joined researchers on field inspections in many parts of the world.

Braun has been a longtime member/executive of journalist guilds, press clubs, and professional groups, including the National Press Club (Washington) and editorial committee of the Online Publishers Association. He served as WMA Magazine of the Year Awards judge (2010-2012), advisory board member of Children’s Eyes On Earth International Youth Photography Contest (2012), and multimedia/communications affiliate of the International League of Conservation Photographers (2015-2017).

David Braun edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world.

He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience.

Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

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