Space plane lands after secretive mission

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The X-37B robotic spacecraft, which resembles a miniature version of the space shuttle, touched down at Vandenberg Air Force Base early Friday morning, marking the first time an American unmanned vehicle returned from orbit to land on its own.

Until now, the space shuttle was the only reusable space plane capable of returning to earth.

“This marks a new era in space exploration,” Paul Rusnock, the X-37’s program director for Boeing Co., which made the spacecraft, said in a statement.

The mysterious X-37B was launched April 22 from Cape Canaveral, Fla. That means it spent more than seven months orbiting the Earth.

Doing what? The government won’t exactly say.

The Air Force, which has been developing the pilotless space plane, has deflected questions about using the X-37B for military missions, saying that it is simply a way to test new technologies, such as satellite sensors and components.

Full story: X-37B space plane returns to earth after seven months in orbit