Space shuttle discovery on a modified Boeing 747 carrier

On an earlier post about NASA Mission STS-128, I mentioned that the shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California on 9/11/2009 due to non-ideal weather conditions at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. To take the shuttle back to Florida, NASA utilizes a modified Boeing 747 aircraft to ferry the shuttle across the country. The modified 747 will need to fly at a lower altitude than usual to maintain proper external pressure and temperature conditions to prevent damaging mechanical and electrical systems on the shuttle. At a lower altitude, the frictional force on the plane is greater due to a denser atmosphere. In addition, there will also be more drag on the plane caused by the shuttle shape and size which drastically changes the aerodynamic characteristics of the ferry aircraft. As a consequence of the increased drag, the ferrying aircraft fuel expenditure is much more significant with the shuttle attached and the trip will require several refueling stops. To verify that weather conditions are adequate for the flight, NASA also sends a pathfinder aircraft ahead of the ferrying aircraft to report back the path weather conditions. This operation is estimated to cost over one million dollars and will take about 2 days to be completed. Here is a picture taken from NASA of the modified Boeing 747 with the shuttle attached taking off from California this morning.


Photo credit: NASA/Tom Tschida

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