Landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis postponed due to bad weather

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Space Shuttle Atlantis

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About Atlantis

Space Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis is one of the fleet of space shuttles belonging to the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It was the fourth operational shuttle built. Following the destruction of Columbia, it is one of the three fully operational shuttles remaining in the fleet. The other two are Discovery and Endeavour. After it completes STS-125, the final Hubble Space Telescope service mission, Atlantis is scheduled to be the first shuttle retired from the fleet.

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The planned landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis earlier today has been postponed due to poor weather conditions in the vicinity of the landing strip at the Kennedy Space Center. The shuttle is currently on STS-117, a mission to the International Space Station.

According to NASA, there were showers within a 34-mile radius of the landing strip and clouds within 8,000 feet. Both of these represent conditions in which flight rules prohibit a landing. The shuttle has five more opportunities to land over the course of the next three days. Atlantis could land tomorrow at 2:16 p.m. or 3:51 p.m. ET. According to Mission Control, weather forecasts predict better conditions tomorrow.

If necessary, there are also backup sites in California and New Mexico. If required, these alternative facilities will be activated on Saturday. Atlantis can potentially remain in orbit until Sunday, but officials have stated they will only postpone landing until Sunday if there are technical problems that require attention prior to landing.

NASA would prefer not to use alternative sites as this would significantly increase the cost of preparing Atlantis for its next mission, scheduled for December. The shuttle would have to be brought back on a jumbo jet; this would take up to ten days and cost US$1.7 million.

The mission managers held a last-minute meeting late Wednesday to discuss potential problems which could affect the landing – damage to the thermal blanket on takeoff - which required repairs. Material known as gap filler was found to be sticking out of a wing, and debris was found floating nearby after the shuttle docked with the space station on Tuesday. The only problem found to be of significant concern was the gap filler. Engineers want to check whether gap filler will withstand the re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.