June 3, 2009
Columbus Air Force Base Tuesday afternoon played host to a cosmic visitor, as the space shuttle Atlantis roared into town atop a modified Boeing 747 aircraft.
The shuttle, carried by NASA''s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, made a more than two-hour "pit stop" to refuel at the Air Force base before it traveled to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
The stop was part of the shuttle''s cross-country journey from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Southern Florida, which included stops at several military installations across the nation.
"Atlantis'' last mission was in May, which was a Hubble space telescope service mission," said Atlantis Shuttle Flow Director Angela Brewer. "Atlantis landed May 24 at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base because bad weather prevented the shuttle from landing in Florida."
After the shuttle landed in California, it flew Monday morning to Biggs Army Air Field near El Paso, Texas.
After staying overnight in El Paso, the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft Tuesday traveled to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio before flying to Columbus, where it landed at about 1:35 p.m. The aircraft and shuttle departed Columbus between about 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday and landed in Florida shortly before 6 p.m.
Hundreds of Air Force personnel, visitors and military families jockeyed for a view of the base''s runway as the NASA Pathfinder aircraft, a large jet sent about 15 minutes ahead of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft to ensure safe weather conditions prior to the shuttle''s landing, streaked across CAFB''s nearly two-mile runway.
Shortly after the Pathfinder landed, the monstrous silhouette of the space shuttle strapped to the top of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft roared across the skies and onto the CAFB runway, drawing cheers and applause from those gathered at the base.
"We are very proud to have NASA here, and it is really an honor to serve them," said Sonic Johnson, CAFB''s director of public affairs. "Our two-mile runway and the security the base is able to provide make this a very suitable location for the carrier aircraft to land.
"While they are here, they will pump five trucks work of fuel into the carrier aircraft so it can make it to the Florida Coast," Johnson added. "Each truck holds about 14,000 pounds of fuel, and there are 6.5 pounds per gallon of fuel. That plane takes a lot of fuel to fly."
Tuesday''s touchdown marked the sixth time the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft has landed at CAFB since the shuttle program''s 1981 introduction.
Although the Atlantis shuttle returned to Earth more than a week ago, it will not be ready to return to space for several more months, Brewer explained.
"There is usually at least a 120-day processing period between space flights, during which they inspect the shuttle, repair damaged tiles and thoroughly inspect it before it launches again," said Brewer. "Atlantis'' next time in space will be Nov. 12, which will be to the (International) Space Station."
Tuesday may have been the shuttle''s final trip to the Friendly City, as the space shuttle program is scheduled to be discontinued next year.
"There are only eight more missions left for the shuttle, and only two of those will be on Atlantis," said Brewer. "Every mission from here on out will be to the space station."
Stanley A. Clemenz commented at 6/3/2009 3:55:00 PM:
I lived in Ocean Springs, Mississippi for 30 years and I was so glad that the 747/Shuttle landed at Columbus,CAFB Mississippi. Those people deserved that. I worked in the missile and Space Program for 51 years. It was a great life. I knew many of the Astronauts, having lived next door to Buzz Aldrin in NASSAU Bay, Texas. Thanks NASA. Stan Clemenz, Pensacola, Florida
lEE commented at 6/3/2009 4:08:00 PM:
whenever the shuttle lands at Edwards, it usually comes through CAFB.
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