Shuttle Atlantis Gets Piggyback Ride Home
The space shuttle Atlantis is halfway through a cross-country trip atop a modified 747 jet toward its home at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The shuttle will spend the night at Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso, Texas after flying there today from California. If weather permits, Atlantis will complete its trip east tomorrow.
Atlantis landed May 24 at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, instead of its usual landing strip on the east coast, because of stormy weather in Florida. The cross-country trip, capping off a successful mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, costs NASA $1.8 million.
Thunderstorms and high winds prevented plans to begin flying Atlantis back home early Sunday from the backup landing site. The shuttle is now riding atop one of NASA's two modified Boeing 747 jumbo jets, which have been converted to allow a 100-ton shuttle to ride piggyback for the trip home.
Atlantis is returning to Florida after a 13-day flight that marked the fifth and final service call on the 19-year-old Hubble Space Telescope. While shuttle technicians prepared the spacecraft for its trip home, Atlantis' sister ship moved into position for its planned June launch toward the International Space Station on Sunday.
Endeavour is slated to launch a crew of seven astronauts to the station on June 13 to deliver the last piece of outpost's massive Japanese Kibo lab. Five spacewalks are planned during the 16-day mission.
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