October 21, 2007 in Nation/World

Shuttle ready for launch if weather permits

Robert Block Orlando Sentinel
 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The shuttle Discovery’s countdown is scheduled to start today, but NASA forecasters are predicting marginally acceptable weather for a scheduled launch at 11:38 a.m. Tuesday.

Otherwise, NASA Test Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson reported that the 120th shuttle spaceflight – Discovery’s 34th – was set to go.

“In summary, all of our systems are in good shape,” she said during a news briefing Saturday. “Our countdown is on schedule. I have no issues to report. Our team is ready. Discovery is ready.”

Mother Nature may not be as cooperative.

NASA forecasters said a new weather system is moving into the area today, bringing with it rain and low cloud cover, lightning and possible visibility problems at Kennedy Space Center this week.

“There is a 40 percent chance of KSC weather prohibiting launch,” said Kathy Winters, the shuttle weather officer. Similar conditions are likely throughout the week.

According to Blackwell-Thompson, NASA has enough fuel and supplies on hand for four launch attempts over five days. The first launch window is 10 minutes long, starting at 11:33 a.m. Tuesday. NASA’s plan is to aim for the middle of the first window.

With a 60 percent chance of good weather sometime in the launch period, NASA was upbeat that Discovery would lift off as scheduled.

“Right now it doesn’t look great, but having many days without having an attempt is not typical,” Winters said. “Usually we have a good day in there somewhere.”

The goal of Discovery’s flight is to deliver a multi-hatch module that will serve as the gateway to European and Japanese research labs scheduled for launches in December, February and April. The shuttle crew also plans to move a set of solar arrays to its permanent mounting point on the end of the station’s main power truss.

The launch will take place amid concerns about hairline cracks in some of Discovery’s wing panels, which shield the craft from the heat of re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.

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