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Landing the Space Shuttle Orbiter at KSC 
Release No. FS-2000-05-30-KSC
Revised May 2000
A version of this fact sheet dated March 1992 is available.

Returning from Space

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Orbiter Returning from SpaceThe initial six Shuttle missions from April 1981 through April 1983 were planned to end at EAFB so the crews and support teams could gain experience in landings. For STS-3, the scheduled California landing had to be switched to the Northrup Strip, White Sands, N.M., because of wet conditions at Edwards. STS-7 in June 1983 was the first end-of-mission landing scheduled for KSC. The orbiter Challenger on that flight landed instead at EAFB, two orbits later than planned, because of marginal weather conditions at KSC.

The first landing at KSC was Mission 41-B on Feb. 11, 1984. KSC was the landing site for four of the next six missions. Extensive brake damage and a blown tire at the conclusion of the 51-D mission in April 1985 prompted officials to postpone further KSC landings until nose wheel steering and improved brakes were installed in the orbiters. Landings were scheduled to resume at KSC with Mission 61-C in January 1986, but that flight also was diverted to EAFB due to bad weather in Florida. The Space Shuttle Challenger accident less than two weeks later resulted in renewed concerns about safety, weather and runway conditions. KSC landings again were put on hold.

Planned end-of-mission landings at KSC resumed in 1991 after safety modifications and improvements were begun to the orbiters and KSCís runway. The orbiters were outfitted with upgraded main landing gear, carbon brakes, additional nose wheel steering capability and improved tires. Drag chutes also were installed on the four orbiters to help reduce rollout speed after touchdown. Endeavour, delivered to KSC in 1991, was the first to have this modification.

The original lateral cross grooves that were cut on the KSC runway to help prevent hydroplaning were ground down on the first 3,500 feet (1,067 meters) at both ends of the landing strip to reduce the friction and abrasion levels on the orbiterís tires at the time of touchdown. In 1994, the entire runway surface was abraded to a smoother texture to reduce tire wear even further. Other enhancements or upgrades implemented were resurfacing the 1,000-foot (305-meter) overruns and rebuilding, strengthening and paving the 50-foot (15-meter) runway shoulders, and replacing runway edge lights.

Of the 97 Shuttle missions that took place from 1981 through February 2000, 51 landed at Kennedy; 45 at EAFB; and one at the Northrup Strip in New Mexico. The Space Shuttle Challenger on Mission STS 51-L in 1986 was destroyed in an accident shortly after liftoff.

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