Shuttle Discovery Begins Ferry Flight to Florida
Space shuttle Discovery and its modified 747 carrier aircraft lift off from Edwards Air Force Base early in the morning of Sept. 20, 2009 on the first leg of its ferry flight back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Credit: NASA/Tony Landis

The space shuttle Discovery began a cross-country ferry flight to its home port in Florida Sunday more than a week after returning to Earth from its latest mission to orbit.

Discovery took off from Edwards Air Force Base in California at 9:20 a.m. EDT (1420 GMT) while riding piggyback atop a modified 747 jumbo jet, NASA?s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, and made an afternoon pit stop at Rick Husband International Airport in Amarillo, Texas, to refuel, NASA officials said.

The shuttle and carrier craft flew to Ft. Worth Naval Station in Texas to refuel again before stopping over at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La. If all goes well, Discovery should return home to NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday.

Discovery landed at Edwards Air Force Base on Sept. 11 to end a 14-day mission that deliver 8 tons of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. The shuttle?s seven-astronaut crew performed three spacewalks during the flight before landing at a backup runway in California due to bad weather at the Kennedy Space Center.

The shuttle blasted off late Aug. 28 and flew 5.7 million miles (9.2 million km) before returning to Earth.

Discovery?s ferry flight back to the Kennedy Space Center was delayed by two days due to bad weather along its cross-country route. NASA typically spends about $1.8 million and a week of time hauling shuttles home to Florida from California, but the trips depend heavily on good weather conditions.

?We fly relatively low and slowly, so you don?t want a lot of wind and turbulence,? NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel told SPACE.com before Discovery?s trip home began. ?You?ve got a very delicate balance with the shuttle on top of a 747.?