NASA Shuttle Managers Track Hurricane Dennis

With Shuttle and Cargo at Pad, NASA Steps Closer Toward Launch
The space shuttle Discovery returns once more to Launch Pad 39B on June 15, 2005 in preparations for NASA's STS-114 spaceflight. (Image credit: NASA/KSC.)

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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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.