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Space Shuttle Discovery stops at Altus, Barksdale

by Airman 1st Class Brandon Kusek
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

8/23/2005 - SAN ANTONIO (AFPN)  -- Thousands of onlookers defied the summer heat to watch Space Shuttle Discovery arrive at two Air Force bases Aug 19. Altus Air Force Base, Okla., was the first of two stops for NASA's shuttle ferry, a Boeing 747 that carried the space shuttle on its back from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Discovery landed successfully at Edwards Aug. 9 amid concerns that impacts with debris during its launch might have damaged its heat-shielding tiles.

After refueling at Altus, the shuttle ferry landed at Barksdale AFB, La., for a scheduled overnight stay. Discovery’s Aug. 20 departure was delayed to the next day due to weather and potential rain damage to the shuttle’s thermal tiles and blankets.

At 930 miles from Edwards, Altus lies just within the shuttle ferry's maximum range. Although the media was notified only hours before that the shuttle would pass through Altus, visitors from as far as Dallas lined miles of roadways outside the base to catch a glimpse of the spacecraft.

Senior Airman Eddie Laubengeyer and Airman 1st Class Tommy Lock, 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels specialists at Altus, provided 60,000 pounds of fuel to the shuttle ferry, enough to reach Barksdale.

"I never once imagined I'd be working with the space shuttle when I joined the Air Force," said Airman Lock. "It was an exciting day."

The Aug. 19 refueling marked the seventh time a space shuttle ferry has received support from Altus. Discovery first visited the base after its maiden voyage in September 1984, and the last shuttle to visit was Endeavor in June 2002.

Discovery’s Barksdale stop marks the third shuttle to visit the base. Columbia stopped to refuel in April 1982 and December 1990, and Atlantis stopped in March 2001.

Before the Barksdale layover, Lt. Gen Kevin P. Chilton, 8th Air Force commander and former astronaut, said he was pleased the shuttle was stopping at Barksdale on its way home.

“I don’t care whether it’s planned or whatever, I’m just so happy that Discovery is stopping here,” General Chilton said. “I see it as a salute to the 2nd Bomb Wing and all the people who helped the Columbia, and I know NASA would probably feel the same way.”

Col. Michael Shoults, 2nd BW vice commander, said it was great to help support NASA and the space shuttle program as it gets back on track.

“There seemed to be a common theme out there; this was like a healing process for the community and the base,” Colonel Shoults said referring to the Columbia disaster. “It’s always amazing to see the (Boeing) 747 with the shuttle on the back of it...only a week ago this thing was orbiting the earth and now here it is, on Barksdale.”

Many people waited on and off base with the hopes of catching a glimpse of the shuttle. People were able to see the shuttle as it made its approach over Bossier City, La., and from the softball fields at the north end of the runway. Airmen and their families also lined the fence to the flightline to look at the shuttle during its 36 hour visit.

Airman 1st Class Brent Beddow, a fitness specialist from the 2nd Services Squadron, was one of the onlookers. Airman Beddow said he’s seen a space shuttle twice before; once as it took off and again when he toured a static display of one.

“Seeing it at Barksdale is much different from when it takes off,” he said. “I was 30 miles away when it took off so it was very different to see it close up. It was also different seeing it after recently returning from space instead of cleaned up.”

Discovery landed at the Kennedy Space Center August 21 and is scheduled tentatively for another mission on March 2006. (Master Sgt. Eugene Bird from the 97th Airlift Wing contributed to this story)

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