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Shuttle Atlantis gets a lift home

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The 45th Weather Squadron went into high gear when they deployed a team of weather specialists to assist in the Space Shuttle Atlantis' return from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., back home to the Kennedy Space Center Tuesday. 

The shuttle, returning from a 14-day mission to the International Space Station, was forced to land at Edwards Friday due to weather problems at KSC. 

The 45th WS crew consisted of Capt. Christopher Lovett, Staff Sgt. Carrie Volpe and Mike McAleenan. The team flew to Edwards Saturday to help guide the shuttle back home during a three-day journey. 

The 45th WS Airmen who helped get the shuttle back to KSC safely are called the ferry flight weather team. The team briefed aircrews approximately two hours before departure. After the weather briefing the morning of the flight, Kathy Winters, the 45th WS shuttle launch weather officer here at the Cape, contacted the Operational Weather Squadron as soon as the crew decided on enroute stops. 

A plane they call the "pathfinder" flew ahead to guide the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft through any weather conditions to include rain, clouds, moisture of any kind as well as moderate to severe wind conditions that could effect the shuttle. 

"Weather can damage the orbiter during flight or while on the ground at an enroute location. Our weather team provides detailed weather information to the Ferry Flight Managers and crew so they can determine a safe route back to Kennedy Space Center." said Ms. Winters. 

Normally the plan is to make two refueling stops at locations where weather will not be an issue, said Winters. The shuttle launch weather office gathered info to provide the weather team during their enroute stops. Unfortunately, due to serious weather conditions along the way, the team was forced to layover at Offutt AFB, Neb., Saturday, and Fort Campbell, Ky., Sunday to keep Shuttle Atlantis from needing expensive repairs. 

But even as the shuttle sits on the ground the weather team is not done yet. At each of their stop-over locations, constant weather readings are measured and recorded. Additionally, the weather team monitors the area for any weather that could potentially affect the shuttle. 

Whether on the ground or in the air, the 45th WS team constantly remains vigilant to ensure shuttles of today and tomorrow make it back safely to the Kennedy Space Center.