2 space shuttles on way to Florida

The Associated Press
Friday March 02, 2001


EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE — NASA sent two of its space shuttles on the first leg of a trip back to Florida from California’s Mojave Desert on Thursday, each flying piggyback atop its own specially modified 747. 

After separate morning takeoffs, both shuttles landed safely after roughly four-hour flights, Columbia at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and Atlantis at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. 

Columbia had been scheduled to land at another Oklahoma base, but bad weather forced the diversion to Texas. Weather permitting, both were scheduled to continue on to Florida on Friday. 

Shuttle Columbia left California first, taking off at 11 a.m. from Palmdale, where it underwent a 17-month major overhaul and upgrade. Atlantis followed 37 minutes later, taking off from nearby Edwards Air Force Base. 

The back-to-back flights were unprecedented. Atlantis landed at Edwards on Feb. 20 after a 13-day mission to the international space station, Alpha, where the crew delivered and installed Destiny, a $1.4 billion laboratory considered the most sophisticated research module ever to fly in space. 

Each cross-country flight atop the modified Boeing 747s costs the National Aeronautics and Space Administration nearly $1 million. \Atlantis is scheduled to return to space on May 17, when it delivers a new airlock to Alpha. NASA plans to launch Columbia in late fall, either on a research mission or on a maintenance flight to the aging Hubble Space Telescope, a NASA spokesman said. 

NASA has four space-going shuttles, Atlantis, Columbia, Discovery and Endeavour.