Thunderstorms delay shuttle landing
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Thunderstorms raking NASA's spaceport kept space shuttle Atlantis in orbit an extra day yesterday, giving the crew unwanted downtime as they aimed for a landing today.
After passing up two opportunities to land yesterday at Kennedy Space Center, Mission Control thanked the seven astronauts for their patience.
"We know you looked at it hard," replied commander Scott Altman. A little later, he informed flight controllers, "We're enjoying the view."
The astronauts - fresh off successful repairs of the Hubble Space Telescope - intended to spend part of their day off watching DVDs. But when they tried to play the movies, they found out that their laptops didn't have the proper software.
Engineers on the ground tried to troubleshoot the problem, but the astronauts gave up after more than an hour of trying.
The astronauts had been warned for days that the weather outlook was grim, and the forecasts proved true.
NASA pressed ahead, instead, with a possible return to the landing site this morning. But the low-pressure system drenching Florida stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean, and forecasters anticipated only slightly improved conditions over the weekend.
As a precaution, NASA activated its backup touchdown site at Edwards Air Force Base in California, where good weather was expected. But landing there would mean more time and money - an estimated $1.8 million - to get Atlantis back to its Florida home base.
There are three landing opportunities today at both Kennedy Space Center and Edwards Air Force Base.
The shuttle has enough supplies to stay in orbit until Monday. Atlantis is also bringing back a wide-field camera from the Hubble that was replaced with a newer model, so it can be put on display at the Smithsonian Institution.