Space Shuttle Atlantis Leaves California Atop Jumbo Jet

Sunday, July 1st 2007, 8:11 pm
By: News On 6

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) _ A jumbo jet carrying the space shuttle Atlantis took off Sunday on a return trip to the shuttle's launch site at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

A modified Boeing 747 with the shuttle mounted on its back left from the Mojave Desert air base at 6:05 a.m. PDT, said Alan Brown, a spokesman at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

The jet made a planned stop at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Neb., Sunday afternoon for refueling and to check the connection between it and the shuttle, NASA spokeswoman Jennifer Tharpe said. NASA officials were monitoring the weather in Nebraska and in Florida and will not take off until Monday morning at the earliest, NASA spokeswoman Jennifer Tharpe said.

Atlantis could still make it to Cape Canaveral on Monday, Tharpe said. Managers will decide how to proceed at a 6 a.m. meeting.

Earlier Sunday, the jet made a rare landing on a commercial runway in Amarillo, Texas. It stopped to refuel at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport _ named for the commander of space shuttle Columbia who died along with six others when the spacecraft disintegrated during re-entry in 2003.

NASA spokesman Bill Johnson had said earlier that the jet was not expected to arrive at Cape Canaveral until at least Monday, with the possibility of a Tuesday arrival if weather is bad.

Atlantis, carrying seven astronauts, landed June 22 after a 14-day mission to continue building the international space station.

Unfavorable weather at its Florida launch site forced it to divert to its alternate landing site in California.

NASA prefers to land shuttles in Florida to avoid the cost of transporting them back on a cross-country flight.