Shuttle Atlantis Gets Piggyback Ride Home

Shuttle Atlantis Gets Piggyback Ride Home
Mounted atop its modified 747 carrier aircraft, space shuttle Atlantis took off from Edwards Air Force Base at 11:06 a.m. EDT on Monday, June 1, for the first leg of its cross country trip to back to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image (Image credit: NASA TV)

The space shuttle Atlantis is halfway through across-country trip atop a modified 747 jet toward its home at NASA's KennedySpace Center in Florida.

The shuttle will spend the night at Biggs Army Airfield inEl Paso, Texas after flyingthere today from California. If weather permits, Atlantis will complete itstrip east tomorrow.

Atlantis landed May 24 at Edwards Air Force Base in SouthernCalifornia, instead of its usual landing strip on the east coast, because ofstormy weather in Florida. The cross-country trip, capping off a successfulmission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, costs NASA $1.8million.

Thunderstorms and high winds prevented plans to begin flyingAtlantis back home early Sunday from the backup landing site. The shuttle isnow riding atop one of NASA's two modified Boeing 747 jumbo jets, which havebeen converted to allow a 100-ton shuttle to ride piggyback for the trip home.

Atlantis is returning to Florida after a 13-day flight thatmarked the fifth and final service call on the 19-year-old Hubble SpaceTelescope. While shuttle technicians prepared the spacecraft for its trip home,Atlantis' sister ship movedinto position for its planned June launch toward the InternationalSpace Station on Sunday.

Endeavour is slated to launch a crew of seven astronauts tothe station on June 13 to deliver the last piece of outpost's massive JapaneseKibo lab. Five spacewalks are planned during the 16-day mission.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.