If weather conditions are favorable, returning space shuttles land at Kennedy Space Center. Florida storms, however, frequently divert the shuttle to Edwards Air Force Base in California. The shuttle then hitches a ride back to Florida on one of two commercial Boeing 747 airplanes modified for space shuttle piggybacking. Officially called shuttle carrier aircraft, the planes are bolstered with struts, stabilizers, and electronic monitors.
Space Shuttle Program
Learn more about NASA's space shuttle program, also known as the "cosmic commuter."
NASA's space shuttle was unlike any other spacecraft built during the 30 years the program was in operation. Unlike the much smaller capsules of the Apollo era, which launched on the tips of rockets and splashed back into the ocean, the jetliner-size shuttle was designed to streak into space using powerful boosters and return to solid ground as a glider. The craft’s aerodynamic winged shape allowed it to descend through the atmosphere and touch down on a runway, much like a commercial airplane.
While in orbit, the space shuttle circled the planet at some 17,500 miles (28,000 kilometers) an hour, which means that the crew could see a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes.
NASA's space shuttle was unlike any other