For a record-tying sixth time, NASA delayed the launch of space shuttle Columbia on Sunday because of thick, low clouds.
Launch controllers waited as long as possible to send Columbia and its seven astronauts on their way, but finally gave up early in the afternoon. By then, it was getting dark at the emergency landing strips overseas and the weather at the launch site was not improving.
Commander Kenneth Bowersox and his crew waited in vain more than five hours for the sky to clear.
“Thanks a lot guys,” said launch director James Harrington. “We gave it the college try, but the weather beat us this time.”
NASA sent the astronauts to the pad an hour later than planned to extend the launch window into the afternoon. But it didn’t help: A cold front stalled over the Kennedy Space Center and kept clouds overhead.
Columbia - NASA’s oldest shuttle - tied its own record for launch scrubs. A satellite-delivery mission by Columbia was delayed six times before finally getting under way in January 1986, almost a month late. This mission already is 2-1/2 weeks late.
The launch was not immediately rescheduled; the next earliest possible liftoff date is Thursday. Among the options being considered by NASA was to bump the flight into mid to late November and fly Atlantis next on a Russian docking mission.
Columbia’s repeated delays have disrupted NASA’s flight schedule for the rest of this year, if not longer. NASA had hoped to launch Atlantis on Nov. 1 to the Russian space station Mir; that mission will be delayed if Columbia takes off first. NASA requires at least five days between shuttle landings and launches.
This was the second weather delay for the 16-day laboratory-research mission. Hurricane Opal forced a postponement as did a slew of mechanical breakdowns: a leaky engine valve, sluggish hydraulics, a failed computer signal-relay unit.
NASA officials insist neither Co lumbia’s age nor its recent tuneup had anything to do with the recent equipment problems. As late as Friday, technicians were swapping out computer components.
Sunday’s scrub cost $1.1 million in spent fuel and overtime pay.