May 22, 2009

NASA Delays Shuttle Landing Due To Weather

Space shuttle Atlantis astronauts will have to remain in orbit longer than expected due to bad weather.

NASA announced on Friday that it would push back plans to land Atlantis to 9:16 a.m. EDT (1316 GMT) Saturday.

Atlantis crewmembers were initially expected to return to the Kennedy Space Center at 10:00 a.m. (1400 GMT), but NASA decided to try again at 11:39 a.m. (1539 GMT). However, bad weather "continues to be a concern," said the space agency.

"The weather just is not clearing up at the Cape at this point," Mission Control told the crew.

"We appreciate you making the early call," replied commander Scott Altman. "We'll see what it looks like as we go by."

Astronauts orbited about 311 miles above Florida on Friday and it was clear to see that the weather patterns were not going to be cooperative for a safe landing as scheduled.

According to AFP: "NASA has set several conditions for a landing: the cloud cover in the skies must not be more than 50 percent, visibility must be at least eight kilometers (five miles) and lateral winds must not be blowing at more than 28 kilometers an hour (17 miles an hour)."

On Wednesday, Atlantis crewmembers were instructed to turn off unneeded devices in order to conserve energy in case they were forced to stay in orbit longer than expected.

If bad weather prevents Saturday's scheduled landing, NASA will have another opportunity to land Atlantis on Sunday.

NASA said Atlantis is designed to stay powered through Monday, if necessary.

Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center at 1401 EDT on May 11 with a mission to make critical upgrades to the 19-year-old Hubble Space Telescope.

Hubble was launched by shuttle Discovery in 1990. NASA believes the new upgrades will allow Hubble to continue operations for at least five years. Meanwhile, its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope is under development.

The STS-125 mission marks the space agency's fifth and final mission to connect with Hubble. After 2020, NASA plans to send a robotic craft to carry the telescope back to Earth where it will be dropped into the ocean.


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