SHUTTLES TAKE FLIGHT COLUMBIA, ATLANTIS HEAD FOR FLORIDA HOME.
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE- Finally getting a break in rainy Southern California weather, space shuttle Columbia took off Thursday morning from Air Force Plant 42, followed minutes later by shuttle Atlantis from Edwards Air Force Base.
Columbia, which has been ready to leave since Sunday, left Plant 42 at 11 a.m. aboard its modified Boeing 747 carrier. The tandem thrilled hundreds of onlookers who gathered around Sierra Highway and Avenue N, some waiting for more than two hours.
``I thought it was beautiful the way they flew over the people and gave them a show,'' said Gloria Nobles of Littlerock. ``It was a beautiful sight.''
At 11:37 a.m., Atlantis took off aboard NASA's other shuttle carrier. Atlantis, which has been ready to leave since Wednesday, had been at Edwards since landing there Feb. 20 at the end of a 13-day mission to outfit the international space station.
Both shuttles were scheduled to make stops before continuing on to Florida. Columbia, originally scheduled to fly into Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, was diverted to Dyess Air Force Base in Texas because of poor weather.
Atlantis was scheduled to spend the night at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
Carrying an 85.5-ton shuttle restricts the NASA 747s to only about 250 mph and around 16,000 to 18,000 feet altitude, NASA spokesman Alan Brown said. The big jet is capable of carrying the weight, but the extra drag slows it down, he said.
NASA does not like to fly two shuttles at the same time, but NASA was eager to get Atlantis back to Florida to begin processing for its next mission in June. NASA was also concerned about the expense of keeping its Florida-based shuttle support workers at Edwards for too much longer.
``This is the first window we've had to get out of here so we're on our way,'' said Brown.
Columbia, at 20 years old the nation's oldest shuttle, had been in Palmdale for 17 months to receive a series of inspections and modifications. Those modifications included the installation of modern touch-screen instrument panels replacing the 1970s vintage gauges and dials.
Columbia was mated to its 747 carrier Saturday, but poor weather lengthened the shuttle's stay in the Antelope Valley. Because the shuttle/747 tandem was too large to go back into the Boeing hangar where Columbia had stayed the past 17 months, Boeing arranged to borrow a hangar from SR Technics America on the other side of Plant 42 to house them.
The SR Technics hangar was large enough to house most of the craft, but the tail sections stuck out, providing a curious sight to onlookers.
(ran in AV edition only) Kim Irby of Lancaster and sons Christopher, 1, and Michael, 13, watch as the space shuttle Columbia takes off from Air Force Plant 42 on Thursday for a return to Florida.
Jeff Goldwater/Staff Photographer
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Mar 2, 2001|
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