|Shuttle Makes First Landing at Cape Canaveral AFS |
Shuttle Makes First Landing at Cape Canaveral AFS
By Ken Warren, 45th Space Wing Public Affairs.
Cape canaveral Air Force Station, Florida -- March 6, 2001 (AFPN) -- For the first time, a space shuttle landed at Cape Canaveral AFS. Perched on top of a modified NASA 747, the shuttle orbiter Columbia made its historic landing here March 5.
A NASA 747 carrying the shuttle orbiter Columbia taxis on the flightline shortly after landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Joel Langton 45th SW Public Affairs
The landing marked the end of a "ferry flight" from Palmdale, Calif., where Columbia was undergoing extensive avionics upgrades at Boeing facilities. Ferry flights normally land at the Kennedy Space Center's shuttle landing facility. however, the SLF wasn't available for Columbia because the shuttle orbiter Atlantis was parked there after its ferry flight had landed about four hours earlier.
With Atlantis parked on the SLF and the need for additional ramp space there for aircraft supporting the March 8 scheduled launch of the next shuttle mission, there was not enough room to park Columbia. The lack of space at Kennedy prompted the plan to land and park Columbia at the adjacent Cape Canaveral AFS.
"Supporting two space shuttle landings on the same day required NASA and the Air Force to share resources more than usual," said Lt. Col. Randy Horn, Cape Canaveral AFS commander. "Having Columbia land at Cape Canaveral AFS is the latest example of the Air Force and NASA working together to build Cape Canaveral AFS and KSC into an integrated spaceport."
This was the first time two orbiters have been airborne on special 747 carriers at the same time. Atlantis returned from space last week, landing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Both Atlantis and Columbia launched on ferry flights March 1.
Forecasters from the 45th Weather Squadron flew aboard the two 747s, providing NASA flight crews with weather data that allowed them to avoid unstable weather en route back to Florida. Air Force teams on the "pathfinder" aircraft, flying approximately 100 miles ahead of the 747s, monitored atmospheric conditions and relayed much of the data the forecasters used.
Weather created delays when leaving California and flying back to Florida. Ferry flights usually take two or three days, but it took five days to get the orbiters back to Florida.
"Bad weather delayed our departure from California," said 2nd Lt. Barry Hunte, of the 45th WS. "Then it changed our route. We were originally supposed to stop at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma on our way to Florida, but weather forced a detour to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas."
Hunte flew on the 747 that ferried Columbia back to the Cape.
"Our job was to watch the weather and make sure we stayed away from conditions that might damage the orbiter, while at the same time getting the flight as far east as possible every day," he said.
Hunte said the primary concern on any ferry flight is precipitation.
"With the weather patterns the country has experienced in the past week or so, it wasn't easy getting back to Florida," he said.
The pathfinder aircraft that led the way back to Florida for Columbia was a KC-135 assigned to the 91st Air Refueling Squadron, MacDill AFB, Fla.
"This mission was a dramatic departure from flying tanker missions," said Capt. Gayle Abbas, pathfinder co-pilot. "We were busy and weather got in the way, but it was a learning experience and a lot of fun. We feel like we contributed to America's space program. It feels great being part of the team."
- Cap Canaveral Air Force Station