NASA shuttle landing delayed for 2nd day in a row
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.
Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) — The offshore storms prompted NASA to skip both morning landing attempts at Kennedy Space Center. Despite an equally dismal forecast for Sunday, Mission Control opted to wait out the bad weather rather than take a detour to California.
A cooling-system problem cropped up aboard Atlantis shortly after Mission Control informed the astronauts of the latest landing plans. Commander Scott Altman and his crew were instructed to hold off on opening the payload bay doors just in case an emergency return was required. Within minutes, however, the astronauts were assured that everything appeared to be working normally.
"We're confident that the radiators are working fine for us. They might have been just a little bit cold," Mission Control said.
"That sounds good," Altman replied. 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.
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.
The weather at the backup landing site, Edwards Air Force Base, is expected to be good all weekend, but it takes time and money - close to $2 million - to ferry a shuttle cross-country.
As for Florida, forecasters expected more bad weather from the same low-pressure system that has been drenching Florida for days. But there was a slight chance that conditions would improve, and that was enough for NASA to ride it out another day.
Atlantis has enough supplies to remain in orbit until Monday.
As the astronauts settled in for another unwanted day in space, President Barack Obama announced his choice for NASA's next administrator, Charles Bolden, a former shuttle commander. Obama told the Atlantis crew earlier in the week, in a phone call, that an announcement was imminent. If confirmed by the Senate, Bolden would become only the second astronaut ever to lead the space agency.
Atlantis' mission culminated earlier this week with the release of Hubble, freshly restored and considered at its scientific peak thanks to the astronauts' effort. In five back-to-back spacewalks, they gave the observatory new science instruments and fixed two others, and replaced batteries, gyroscopes and other aging parts.
This was the fifth and final visit to Hubble by astronauts. With NASA's three remaining space shuttles slated for retirement next year, there will be no way to stage another repair mission at the space telescope. It will be steered into the Pacific sometime in the early 2020s; a docking ring was installed by Atlantis' astronauts just for that purpose.
On the Net: NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission-pages/hubble/main/index.html
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)