Nation/World

Weather looks good for shuttle launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA grew more optimistic of launching space shuttle Endeavour today on a space station delivery mission as forecasters offered a more promising outlook for the nighttime liftoff.

Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters on Thursday put the odds of acceptable conditions at 70 percent for the 7:55 p.m. launch, with rain and clouds the main concerns. The day before, the odds stood at 60 percent.

Winters said the cold front making its way to Florida was not traveling as fast as originally thought, and was not expected to reach the launch site until Saturday night. As a result, the chance of launching Saturday evening is a dismal 30 percent, she said.

Everything in the countdown, meanwhile, was going well.

And up in orbit, the three men aboard the International Space Station eagerly awaited thousands of pounds of new equipment for remodeling and expanding their home.

Among the items being carried up by Endeavour and its seven astronauts: a new bathroom, kitchenette, exercise machine, two bedrooms and a system capable of turning urine into drinking water.

“I have no issues to report,” NASA test director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said Thursday. “We’re really excited to share our version of a sunrise with you tomorrow night.”

This will be the 31st shuttle launch in darkness out of 124 flights. That’s one-quarter of all shuttle missions.

While making for a spectacular light show, the nighttime launch will result in fewer photographs for engineers to analyze. Ever since flights resumed following the 2003 Columbia disaster, NASA has had a battalion of cameras aimed at its rising space shuttles to look for any falling fuel-tank foam or other debris.

Additional pictures are taken once the shuttle reaches orbit. That, combined with radar launch images and in-depth laser inspections of the wings and nose in space, should provide sufficient information for determining whether Endeavour is safe to come home at flight’s end, officials said.

Columbia shattered during re-entry because of a hole in its wing, left there by a large chunk of foam that tore off the fuel tank during launch. All seven astronauts were killed.



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