Posts Tagged ‘on top of 747’

Shuttle mating and un-mating to the 747 which carried it back to KSC took place in this device. - NASA Photo

When the weather or other conditions forced the shuttles to land in California or New Mexico, the shuttles had to be returned to Florida for servicing and to be prepared for another launch. Accomplishing the return of a shuttle from an alternative landing site was time-consuming and expensive.

The first landings of the shuttles were planned for Edwards Air Force Base, north of Los Angeles, because of the size of the landing area. Edwards is a large dry lake bed in the high desert. But once landing was mastered which happened soon enough, the shuttles landed in Florida. With a few exceptions through the 135 shuttle missions, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, is where they returned from space and landed.

Atlantis on her way back to Florida. She will launch on July 8, 2011, the final shuttle launch ever. -NASA Photo

When a shuttle landed elsewhere, it was returned to Florida on top of a Boeing 747 specially rigged to carry it. Carrying the shuttle on top of a 747 was also used in flight tests before the actual shuttle missions in space began in 1981.

When a shuttle landed on its own in Florida, it was relatively easy (nothing was ever really easy in the shuttle program); the shuttle was simply towed back to one of three OPFs (“orbiter processing facility” or hangar).

When the shuttle returned to KSC and landed atop a 747, the 747 would taxi to the south end of the SLF (“shuttle landing facility” or runway) and using the device shown in the large photograph below, the shuttle would be removed from the 747, and then towed back to one of the OPFs.

Returning the shuttle after landing at an alternative landing site was expensive and time-consuming. To return to Florida after a landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, took two flying days and, reportedly, cost more than a million dollars. I took this photographs, and the one below, on one of my visits to the southern end of the SLF on May 17, 2011.


When shuttles were returned to KSC atop a 747, they taxied to the south end of the runway (SLF) to this device where the shuttle was removed.

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