Washington: US space agency NASA transferred on Thursday space shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, where it will go on permanent display.

The transfer, which was witnessed by more than two dozen astronauts who flew on Discovery over the course of its 39 missions and more than 365 days in space, kicked-off a four-day festival celebrating the retired orbiter's induction into the national aerospace collection at the museum.

"Discovery has distinguished itself as the champion of America's shuttle fleet. In its new home, it will shine as an American icon, educating and inspiring people of all ages for generations to come," said John Dailey, director of the museum.

"The museum is committed to teaching and inspiring youngsters, so that they will climb the ladder of academic success and choose professions that will help America be competitive and successful in the world of tomorrow."

The retired shuttle arrived in Washington from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, atop a specially outfitted Boeing 747 jumbo jet. It circled several Washington landmarks to the delight of onlookers before arriving at nearby Dulles Airport.

"Today, while we look back at Discovery's amazing legacy, I also want to look forward to what she and the shuttle fleet helped to make possible," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

"As NASA transfers the shuttle orbiters to museums across the country, we are embarked on an exciting new space exploration journey."

Discovery was first launched in 1984 and flew 39 missions, more than any other shuttle in the fleet. Among its highlights is the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, the first shuttle docking with the International Space Station.

Discovery was retired last year, along with its sister shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour. Endeavour will go on permanent display at a science museum in Los Angeles, while Atlantis will remain at the Kennedy Space Center for display.

The retirement of US shuttle fleet may mark the end of a 30-year chapter in American spaceflight, but not the end of the story.

NASA is "focusing on developing a heavy-lift vehicle, a multipurpose crew vehicle," Bolden said. "We continue our leadership in space exploration and in our international partnership with other nations who are of like minds."