CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Thunderstorms prevented space shuttle Atlantis from returning to its home base Saturday for the second day in a row, and kept the astronauts circling Earth after a successful repair job at the Hubble Space Telescope.
The offshore storms, which later moved in, prompted NASA to skip both morning landing attempts at Kennedy Space Center. Despite an equally dismal forecast for today, Mission Control opted to wait out the bad weather rather than take a detour to California.
As Atlantis soared overhead, right around what would have been landing time, commander Scott Altman called down that he saw “a pretty solid mass of clouds.”
“It looks to us like maybe it is starting to break up and move out, so we’re hopeful to get home tomorrow,” he said.
Atlantis’ seven astronauts made it further into their landing preparations than they did Friday, when storms directly over the Florida landing site resulted in much earlier cancellations.
A cooling-system problem cropped up aboard Atlantis soon after the astronauts got word of the latest delay, and they were advised to hold off on opening the payload bay doors just in case an emergency return was required. Within minutes, however, Altman was assured everything was fine, and the doors were opened to radiate the heat generated by all the equipment.
Altman and his crew are trying to wind up their Hubble repair mission, which began May 11. It was NASA’s last visit to the 19-year-old observatory. The $1 billion overhaul should keep the telescope working for another five to 10 years.