Explore the Discovery space shuttle via panaromic images

National Geographic's zoomable panoramic photos of Discovery allow you to see the instrumentation and controls required to operate the space shuttle.

The space shuttle Discovery made its last flight on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 aboard a retrofitted 747 jumbo jet through restricted airspace over Washington, D.C. with an armed escort. Its destination was the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The National Geographic site has this two-minute video of Discovery's final flight over D.C.

Discovery will be on display but, unfortunately, it is not going to be open to the public; the Smithsonian plans to seal it up indefinitely. But before they do, National Geographic, as well as many other news organizations, was able to get inside and take pictures of the shuttle's interiors.

National Geographic took gigapans of Discovery -- a gigapan is a 360-degree photograph with the equivalent of 340 8-megapixel photos stitched together. (Gigapan technology was developed for the Mars Rovers.) National Georgraphic took 27 gigapans of Discovery, but only 10 gigapans are currently available online; National Geographic plans to release more images on its Spaceflight HD Gigapans page in the next few weeks.

These gigapans allow you to explore online the extensive instrumentation and controls required to operate a space-faring vehicle (check out the Discovery Flight Deck gigapan, which is 2.74 gigapixels) and other areas of the ship, such as the toilet. Each gigapan contains a few "snapshots," which are areas of interest within the photo that immediately zoom the gigapan when clicked.

Discovery's sister ships will become museum pieces as well, with Enterprise on display in New York City, Endeavor in LA, and Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Will you travel to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. or another one of these cities to see a shuttle up close? Share your plans in the comments.

Also read: The NASA site overview of Discovery