August 21, 2005

Space shuttle back in Florida

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL (Reuters) - The space shuttle Discovery
completed a cross-country ride atop a jumbo jet and returned to
Florida on Sunday, nearly two weeks after finishing NASA's
first mission since the 2003 Columbia accident.

After spending an extra day at Barksdale Air Force Base in
Louisiana because of poor weather, the shuttle landed at the
Kennedy Space Center in central Florida about 10 a.m. Eastern
time (1400 GMT) after riding piggyback on a specially modified
Boeing 747 jet carrier.

The 100-ton shuttle and its jet carrier fly at about 15,000
feet -- about half the altitude of commercial jet traffic.

"Discovery is back at KSC," NASA spokesman Bruce Buckingham
said after the last, two-and-a-half-hour leg of the trip.

NASA prefers to land in Florida directly from space, saving
about $1 million in transport costs, two weeks of processing
time and the risks of a 2,200 mile journey from the backup
landing site in California.

But two days of rain and clouds in Florida prompted flight
directors to divert Discovery to Edwards Air Force Base in
California's Mojave Desert on August 9 at the end of its 14-day

The next shuttle mission to the International Space Station
will not occur until next March -- a six-month delay -- while
engineers try to find out why insulating foam fell off
Discovery's external fuel tank during its July 26 liftoff.

Falling foam doomed Columbia when a briefcase-sized chunk
knocked a hole in its wing at launch. During Columbia's reentry
in February 2003 into the Earth's atmosphere, superheated
atmospheric gases tore into the gap.

Columbia then broke apart over Texas, killing all seven
astronauts on board.