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The NASA orbiter program was shuttered after 30 years in the summer of 2011, several months after the Discovery made its final flight.

The shuttle was in service for 27 years and in that time flew 39 missions, including a 1990 mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope. It also was the first shuttle to fly after the disasters that claimed Challenger upon launch in 1986 and Columbia during re-entry in 2003.

Many of Tuesday’s onlookers expressed bittersweet sentiments about the symbolic end to the space shuttle program.

Carolyn Ruby, a volunteer at the museum, called the landing “an elegant finish.”

“It was wonderful. It flew so slowly and low, so everybody had a chance to see it,” she said.

“It’s sad to see the end of an era,” said William Clendaniel, a retired Fairfax County school principal. “I was a child of the 1960s and I listened to [President Kennedy’s] inauguration speech about putting a man on the moon.”

After watching the shuttle fly directly above him, Daniel Choi, a planetary scientist with the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt said the experience was “more emotional than I thought it would be.”

Hours before the shuttle made its appearance in D.C. airspace, the parking lot at the museum was cluttered with lawn chairs, blankets and coolers.

Herndon residents Pattie Kaiser, 65, and her husband, Chris, said they had been to several shuttle launches and wanted to see Tuesday’s event because - as so many others said - it was the end of an era.

“We grew up knowing the pride of achievement that seems to be drawing to a close,” Mrs. Kaiser said. “There was something personal. It was our shuttle, our program, our dream. That’s what we’re here to see.”