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Page last updated at 11:20 GMT, Thursday, 4 November 2010
RAF Fairford on standby for Space Shuttle landing
Space Shuttle Enterprise
Space Shuttle Enterprise landed at Fairford in 1983 on the back of a Jumbo jet

Staff at RAF Fairford are gearing up for a possible emergency landing by NASA's Space Shuttle for, what could be, the penultimate time.

The final flight of Discovery is due to take place on Friday 5 November after being delayed due to bad weather in Florida.

As ever, the Gloucestershire airbase could be used as a landing site should something go wrong after take off.

The site's long runway makes it a suitable back-up destination.

A further space shuttle flight is scheduled for February 2011 when Endeavor will launch. There could also be a final flight for Atlantis in June next year.

We're a back up, to a back up, to a back up.
Airfield manager, Tony Maycock

Although staff at Fairford will be ready, should the runway be required, the chances of it actually being used are very slim.

"We're a back up, to a back up, to a back up in essence," said airfield manager Tony Maycock.

"They'll always try and recover the Shuttle to the United States.

"If they can't get there, there are three sites within Europe they'll go to before they think of us."

Emergency zones

Fairford is the only place in England suitable for a landing because of its runway length - two miles (3.2km) - which is needed by the Shuttle.

Because of the speeds involved, if something goes wrong it could be landing at Fairford just 15 minutes after launching from Florida.

As the Shuttle climbs it will pass through several emergency zones and the crew will be told where they would have to go in case of emergency.

Almost immediately after take-off they would try to return to the USA, to California, where they would normally touch down, but once they get to a certain altitude they would have to head out across the Atlantic and try to land at either Fairford or another base in Europe.

Tony Maycock said there will be a whole crew ready and waiting at Fairford.

"On the ground here we've got about 25 people actually involved on the site, from fire crash rescue and security, to the base commander who'll be heading up the convoy that will move out onto the airfield should it come here."

A Space Shuttle has landed at RAF Fairford, but that was on the back of a Jumbo jet when it was heading to the Paris air show in 1983.

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