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Sunita may be bound for California

Posted by Ralph Ranalli June 22, 2007 01:44 PM

kennedy.jpg
Clouds hang over the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a second day.
(AP Photo by Chris O'Meara)

NEEDHAM

For the second day, rain prevented space shuttle Atlantis from landing at Kennedy Space Center on its first try, leaving NASA managers to decide whether to try a landing in California instead. Needham native Sunita Williams is one of the astronauts on board.

"Our mindset down here is we're going to land you somewhere safely today," Mission Control told the shuttle crew Friday morning.

The first landing attempt at California's Edwards Air Force Base, the shuttle's usual backup landing site, would be at 3:49 p.m. If the weather cleared up over Florida before then, NASA could instead try bringing the shuttle into Kennedy at 3:55 p.m.

"We're going to take a hard look at (Kennedy) at the next rev ... and we'll also be looking at Edwards," Mission Control told Atlantis' astronauts.

Despite the initial wave off, Atlantis' astronauts took two steps in preparation for landing -- they put on their orange spacesuits and closed the shuttle's payload bay doors, which are kept opened during flights to keep heat from building up.

The crew has five chances Friday to land, the first had been at 2:18 p.m. in Florida and the last at 6:59 p.m. in California. If the weather spoils all those opportunities, mission managers would try again Saturday, with another backup landing site in New Mexico in the lineup.

The preferred landing site is Kennedy, where it is easier and far cheaper to get Atlantis to its hangar to be prepared for its next mission in December. If it lands in California, it would cost $1.7 million and take up to 10 days to get the shuttle home to Florida aboard a jumbo jet.

Read more about NASA's troubles getting Atlantis home on Boston.com.

-- AP

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