Weather Looks Doubtful for Space Shuttle Landing
The STS-125 crew is in Atlantis' flight deck while speaking with reporters about their Hubble Space Telescope fixes on May 20, 2009.
Credit: NASA TV

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Stormy weather in Florida prompted NASA to forgo the first of two landing attempts for the space shuttle Atlantis today, giving the seven astronauts aboard the spacecraft one more chance to return home on time.

Atlantis commander Scott Altman and his crew hoped to land here at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center at about 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT), but Mother Nature isn?t cooperating. Instead, NASA will target an 11:39 a.m. EDT (1539 GMT) return for the crew, the only remaining chance for a shuttle landing today.

?The weather just is not clearing up at this point,? Mission Control called up to Atlantis. Thick clouds and lightning could be seen at the time over NASA spaceport, which has been battered by rain in recent days.

Mission Control radioed the astronauts early, before sunrise, to break the news so they could avoid donning their bulky orange pressure suits and other chores.

?We appreciate the early call,? Altman said, adding that he?ll take a look at the weather over Florida from space. ?We?ll see what it looks like as we go by.?

Altman and his crew launched May 11 and are returning to Earth to end an 11-day service call on the Hubble Space Telescope. The astronauts performed five back-to-back spacewalks in as many days to make repairs and upgrades that left the 19-year-old Hubble more powerful than ever.

It was NASA's fifth, and last, mission to Hubble before retiring its three-shuttle fleet next year and is expected to extend the iconic observatory?s life through at least 2014.

If Atlantis cannot land today, NASA can try again on Saturday, when it would call up a backup runway at the Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California. The first Florida landing opportunity is at 9:16 a.m. EDT (1316 GMT), with the first window in California opening about 90 minutes later.

In all, the shuttle would have two chances to land at each of the Florida and California runways, NASA officials said.

NASA prefers to land space shuttles at the Kennedy Space Center because it is the home port and launch site for the fleet. It also saves about $1.8 million and a week of time required to return a shuttle from its backup runway in California to Florida using NASA's modified 747 jumbo jet transport craft.

SPACE.com is providing continuous coverage of NASA's last mission to the Hubble Space Telescope with senior editor Tariq Malik at the Cape Canaveral, Fla., and reporter Clara Moskowitz in New York. Click here for landing coverage, mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.

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