NASA was forced to twice delay the landing of its Discovery shuttle due to stormy weather in Florida. The Discovery and its seven-man crew could end up landing in California on Friday if bad weather conditions continue in Florida.
AFP - Thunderstorms and high winds forced NASA to abandon its first two attempts to land the space shuttle Discovery, with the next bid for a descent to Earth set for later Friday.
"We know everyone worked it as hard as they could," shuttle commander Rick Sturckow told mission control Thursday when informed of the decision. "We will look forward to trying again tomorrow."
With stormy conditions again forecast for Florida's Kennedy Space Center, Edwards Air Force Base in California was ready to become an alternative landing site if required, the US space agency said.
NASA said it has four landing opportunities Friday, the first two -- 2148 GMT and 2323 GMT -- in Florida and two more later in California, at 0053 GMT and 0228 GMT Saturday.
Favorable conditions at Edwards on Friday night were forecast to worsen the following day due to winds kicked up by Hurricane Linda in the Pacific Ocean. The shuttle has enough provisions to remain in orbit through Sunday.
Earlier Thursday, the crew fired up Discovery's engines and carried out a 14-second maneuver to avoid a piece of debris that had apparently drifted away from the shuttle during a spacewalk Saturday, mission control said.
When all was clear, Sturckow and his crew were given the green light to close the doors on Discovery's big cargo bay and begin other preparations for the planned descent.
Discovery's return will wind up a successful mission to the International Space Station during which the crew installed new scientific equipment, overhauled the orbiter's cooling system and gathered up external experiments to be returned to Earth for analysis.
Ahead of the re-entry, NASA mission managers finished an evaluation of the shuttle's heat shielding, concluding the fragile thermal barrier was in good shape for the high-velocity de-orbit.
The space agency also said Thursday it successfully tested the first stage motor of the Ares 1 rocket, the launch vehicle for the space shuttle's successor, Orion.
The static test, conducted at NASA's Promontory test center in the western state of Utah, was scrubbed just before its first attempt in August following a problem in an auxiliary motor that supplied hydraulic pressure.
Ares 1, which has cost seven billion dollars so far, faces an uncertain fate after a presidential panel said this week the US manned space project remains woefully underfunded for the goal of returning man to the moon and, ultimately, going to Mars.
Discovery returns to Earth with American astronaut Tim Kopra, who is ending a 57-day mission to the space station, and just over 5,200 pounds (2,300 kilos) of research gear, discarded equipment and trash.
"This experience has completely exceeded anything I thought it would be like, just in sights and sounds, the experiences," said Kopra. "It's been absolutely phenomenal."
He was replaced on the station by American Nicole Stott, who is due to remain aboard the outpost with five Russian, European and Canadian astronauts through late November.
Discovery's mission, which featured three spacewalks, left the 220-mile (354-kilometer)-high space station better equipped to house crews of six astronauts as NASA prepares to retire its aging space shuttle fleet by early 2011.
A half-dozen shuttle missions remain, each intended to gradually complete the assembly of the 15-nation outpost.
In Japan meanwhile the country's Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched an unmanned cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station in the first of what it hopes will be annual efforts until 2015.
Japan currently has no spacecraft that can send people into space.
But, like China and India, it has been stepping up its space operations and in June ended the world's most extensive mission to the moon in decades, using an unmanned lunar orbiter. It hopes to send an astronaut there by 2020.
Date created : 2009-09-11