Home again: U.S. military space plane returns to Earth
Flying back to Earth after nearly 225 days in space, the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane blazed through the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean Friday and swooped into a California air base under the cloak of darkness.
Capping a secret mission in orbit, the unmanned spaceship touched down at 0916 GMT (4:16 a.m. EST; 1:16 a.m. PST) on the landing strip at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
The 15,000-foot-long runway was built to handle space shuttle landings, but Friday morning’s return was the first time Vandenberg welcomed home a spacecraft from orbit. The West Coast facility has hosted more than 1,900 launches since the late 1950s.
It was the first time a robotic U.S. vehicle autonomously returned to Earth from space to land on a runway. Only the former Soviet Union’s Buran space shuttle accomplished the feat before Friday morning.