Flashback Friday: Take a VR tour of Space Shuttle Discovery

space shuttle discovery

In a time when traveling to a museum might not be the best of ideas (Thanks, COVID!!), being able to take a virtual tour is a godsend when you want to satiate your curiosity about something. Luckily, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum has us covered with a VR tour of Space Shuttle Discovery.

The video below is a VR tour of Discovery at her final home at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Dulles, Virginia, part of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. In the video, we join retired astronauts Charlie Bolden and Kathy Sullivan as they reminisce about their time on STS-31, Discovery’s mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope. After being lifted up to the hatch, our hosts climb aboard and spend time reliving the flight for us in different parts of the ship.

During breaks in their stories, we get a few moments to look around in 3D to get a good view of each part of the ship. We even go for a walk inside the payload bay which we can see was not stripped down for Discovery’s retirement like the engine bay. But in this case, the bay is empty, unlike Atlantis which is on display with the bay doors open.

In a stroke of luck, I wouldn’t have known about this space shuttle tour had I not been there when the empty interior views were being recorded. It was a few days after the American solar eclipse of 2017. I decided to make a big trip out of the event and capped off the week with a visit to Discovery. Naturally, I tried to see if there was some way to get up there and get a closer look (or maybe go inside) but it didn’t happen. But, like Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I tried.

Rear view of Discovery. At some spots, you can literally stand under her.

Thankfully, this VR tour captures both the inside AND the outside of Space Shuttle Discovery so you can see what it’s like to stand in the shadow of this legendary vehicle. Due to the pandemic, visiting hours for the museum are changing as they adapt to evolving guidelines. Hopefully this little tour can suffice until we can all visit again safely.

BONUS VIDEO: On YouTube, literally right next to the 3D video embedded above, is this little gem seen below. Our tour guides, Charlie and Kathy, stop on the mid-deck and and take a moment to answer that age-old question that gets asked of every astronaut wherever they go: “How do you go to the bathroom in space?”

Oh, and for some reason, this video is also done in 3D.

While they both talk about it, Charlie steps up to explain how the toilet works and why it works the way it does. He shares details about the toilet but not ALL of them (Don’t ask me how I know) Yes, Charlie Bolden, the retired astronaut, former NASA administrator and retired United States Marine Corps Major General made a short video about how a toilet works. Ah, the glamorous life of an astronaut.

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