Missionmanagers for the space shuttle Discovery are meeting tonight to decide whether theyshould begin readying the orbiter in the event high winds force it to roll backto the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), a NASA report said today.
In awritten shuttle update, NASA officials said the agency's weather officers arecarefully tracking the approach of Hurricane Dennis - currently headed towardthe Gulf Coast - and its possible impact at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, whereDiscovery currently sits atop Launch Pad 39B.
"Thecurrent forecast shows only a slight chance of more than 40 knot windseffecting KSC on Saturday," NASA officials reported. "A decision on rollbackwould not be made until tomorrow."
NASAofficials said that simply deciding to make rollback preparations would notaffect Discovery's current July 13 launch target. In an earlier update today,they reported that they would continue to monitor the hurricane's progress andwere moving along toward the planned Wednesday launch date.
Shuttlemanagers hope to launch Discovery, NASA's first orbiter to fly since the 2003Columbia disaster, at 3:51 p.m. EDT (1951 GMT).
Discovery'sSTS-114 mission is the first of two test flights geared toward returning NASA's shuttle fleet to flight status. The 12-day mission will test out several new tools foron-orbit shuttle inspection and dock at the International Space Station todeliver vital supplies and replacement parts.
HurricaneDennis, currently a Category 3 hurricane according to wire reports, is expectedto roll past Cuba on Friday toward the central Gulf Coast. According toAccuWeather reports, it may make U.S. landfall late Sunday near the mouth ofthe Mississippi River.
Hurricanesaside, NASA officials have acknowledged that Discovery's afternoon launchalready presents a challenge during a season noted for its rainy afternoon. Butflight rules calling for daylight conditions during launch, external tankseparation and docking - to allow the best camera views of vital shuttle areas -have pegged the mission's liftoff to afternoon flight times.
"Launchingin the middle of July is going to be a challenge," said NASA launch directorMichael Leinbach last week during a mission briefing. "We hope [the rain] letsup on July 13."
Discoveryhas made the 4.2-mile (6.7-kilometer) trek back to NASA's 52-story VAB oncebefore this year, when it switchedits external tank for one with an added heater that prevents ice buildup on abellows unit. The shuttle returnedto its Pad 39B launch site on June 15.
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