Space shuttle Endeavour lands piggyback in California

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EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, California (Reuters) - The space shuttle Endeavour, carried piggyback atop a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Thursday after a cross-country trip to Los Angeles to begin its final mission as a museum exhibit.

The 747 carrying the newly retired spaceship touched down safely shortly before 1 p.m. (4 p.m. EDT) at Edwards, located in the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles.

The sprawling base was originally the primary landing site for NASA’s shuttle program before the space agency built a landing facility for the orbiters at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Edwards then became the principal backup landing site for the shuttle program in case of bad weather at Cape Canaveral.

Endeavour is scheduled to take off for its final ferry flight again on Friday, and the final airborne journey of the entire space shuttle fleet, headed for Los Angeles International Airport.

The 75-ton (68-tonne) spacecraft will then undergo preparations to be moved 12 miles through city streets from the airport to its permanent home at the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles, where the shuttle will be put on public display starting October 30.

Added to the shuttle fleet after Challenger was destroyed by an accidental explosion that killed seven astronauts in 1986, Endeavour has flown 25 missions in space and logged nearly 123 million miles (198 million km) in flight during 4,671 orbits.

NASA retired its shuttle fleet last year after completing the U.S. portion of the $100 billion International Space Station, a permanently staffed research complex that is owned by 15 nations and orbits about 250 miles above Earth.

Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler