Party atmosphere reigned in early shuttle landings
The space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center Friday, July 8, 2011, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Atlantis is the 135th and final space shuttle launch for NASA. (AP Photo/John Raoux) By John Raoux
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) -- Atlantis will mark the end of the space shuttle era with a scheduled return to Florida this week.
Shuttle homecomings didn't always end this way.
For much of the first decade of the shuttle program, Edwards Air Force Base in California was the go-to landing site.
It was in the Mojave Desert where astronauts gained experience in landing. Edwards had dry lakebeds that were softer, wider and longer than the concrete runway at Cape Canaveral, Fla., where the shuttles lifted off.
Over the past 30 years, 54 shuttles landed in California and 77 returned to Florida. One was diverted to New Mexico. Two shuttle flights ended in tragedies.