NASA delayed Thursday’s scheduled launch of space shuttle Discovery due to rain showers and low clouds expected at launch time. NASA says Discovery is now scheduled to take off (1903 UTC) Friday afternoon. Mission managers will meet early Friday to re-evaluate the weather conditions at the site of the launch, Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
NASA’s Mission Management Team made the decision to delay launch after a 5:30 a.m. EDT teleconference and a weather briefing that called for a broken decks of clouds at 3,000 and 6,000 feet, overcast at 15,000 feet, winds out of 240 degrees at 13 knots with gusts to 20 knots, and showers within 20 nautical miles of the runway. The low clouds, showers and winds are in violation of NASA flight safety rules.
“Our team was prepared and ready to execute tanking this morning,” said Pete Nickolenko, the assistant launch director. “Our tanking weather would have been acceptable. However, the launch forecast continues to be poor, with solid rain showers forecast throughout the course of the day. The team concluded it was not prudent to pick up with tanking today. At this point, we’re going to be inserting a 24-hour delay in our countdown procedures.”
When the 11-day mission finally begins, the shuttle will carry six American astronauts to the International Space Station, and deliver a final module for the U.S. portion of the orbiting laboratory. The shuttle will also carry the first humanoid robot into space, Robonaut 2 (R2). With human-like arms, a powerful-looking torso and a gold-helmet head, R2 looks something like a comic book superhero. Once aboard the space station, the robot will become a permanent resident, where, initially, it will do little more than hold tools. NASA envisions R2 will eventually assist astronauts during spacewalks. On its return to Earth, Discovery will be retired along with shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour after a final mission by Endeavour in February. Discovery has completed 38 missions in 26 years. It is the oldest of the three shuttles.
The forecast for tomorrow calls for few clouds and no rain. But shuttle weather officers are predicting winds out of 330 degrees at 17 knots with gusts to 26 knots–also a violation of launch weather guidelines. The overall forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of weather prohibiting launch. The odds are 60 percent “no-go” on Saturday. As it now stands, engineers plan to begin fueling Discovery at 5:39 a.m. EDT tomorrow. The shuttle’s six-member crew–commander Steven Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe, Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt, and spacewalkers Timothy Kopra and Alvin Drew–will begin strapping in around 11:44 a.m. to await liftoff at 3:04 p.m.