CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA warned space shuttle Discovery’s astronauts yesterday to expect rain delays as they wrapped up their two-week mission and prepared to come home.
Discovery and its crew of seven were scheduled to land this morning at NASA’s Florida spaceport.
Shuttle commander Alan Poindexter said he enjoys spending extra time in orbit and does not mind if Discovery cannot make it back until tomorrow.
Mission Control promised to keep monitoring the weather in case the forecast improved. In the worst case, Discovery could aim for the backup landing site in California tomorrow.
Poindexter and his crew are returning from the International Space Station after stockpiling it with supplies, science experiments, and spare parts, including a tank full of ammonia coolant. It took three spacewalks to install the tank.
Providing Florida’s weather cooperates, Discovery will crisscross much of the US during reentry, zooming in from the Pacific Northwest. For safety reasons, NASA typically prefers to bring a shuttle home from the southwest, up over Central America and the Gulf of Mexico.
It is a lesson NASA learned the hard way in 2003, when Columbia shattered over Texas during reentry. All seven astronauts were killed, but remarkably, no one on the ground was hurt by the wreckage.
Since then, only one other shuttle mission has ended with a continental flyover, 2007.