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US shuttle Atlantis heads back to Florida

By Xinhua

Washington : More than a week after landing, US space shuttle Atlantis began its trip from California back to Florida, according to NASA.

"Piggy-backed" on top of a modified 747 jetliner, Atlantis left Edwards Air Force Base, California, at 9.04 a.m. (1304 GMT) Sunday, making its cross-country ferry flight back to Kennedy Space Centre, Florida.

The enroute plan includes refuelling stops and a stop overnight in Nebraska. The anticipated arrival at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida will be no earlier than Monday with a possibility of arriving Tuesday if weather conditions are not favourable for a Monday landing, the NASA official website said.

Atlantis landed at Edwards on June 22 concluding a successful assembly mission to the International Space Station. Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams returned in it after a record space flight.

Unfavourable weather at its Florida landing site forced NASA to divert Atlantis to its alternate landing site in California.

NASA prefers to land shuttles in Florida to avoid the cost of transporting them back on a long-distance flight, which needs an estimated $1.7 million.