As a small child, I had a book on airplanes that I got from my grandfather who was an avid single-engine pilot. In it, there was a picture of a Boeing-747-100 with a space shuttle strapped to its top side. I always imagined in my head it was some prototype launch system - the kind that would someday take me to my weekend house on the moon by 2020. It never crossed my young mind that the launch and landing points for NASA were not always adjacent, and shuttles are too large just throw on a Wide Load trailer and truck down the interstate. the shuttle/plane combo was also a sketch, so I couldn't verify that this was even feasible. But, you know, there are a lot of things about space travel behind the scenes I never really grasped.
It turns out I was a little bit both right. They use the 747 to take the shuttle into flight for landing runs and experiments, as well as transport. Obviously, a 747 can't propel it to mach 3. But here it is in action (video available on YouTube). And, here is how they get it on/off.
This begs the question of the shuttles journey into the sky. Those 3 giant boosters that it is mounted on at the launch pad. What happens to the 3 boosters that take it to the edge of the atmosphere at 1000 fps? What happens after the 1 second of video when they break away and fall back to earth. Here is a short photo tour of their journey.
Photos courtesy of NASA