NASA Tackles Issues for Thursday Shuttle Launch

CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA mission managers gave a preliminary approval lateTuesday for the planned Dec. 7 launch of the space shuttle Discovery, even asengineers wrangle two issues that came up during routine inspections.

"We'reon track and on target for Thursday," said LeRoy Cain, NASA's spaceshuttle program launch integration manager, in a launch readiness briefing heldhere at Kennedy Space Center. "All in all, we're in great shape."

Discoveryis slated to lift off with seven astronauts at 9:35:47 p.m. EST (0235:47 Dec. 8GMT) toward the InternationalSpace Station (ISS) for a 12-day construction mission. The STS-116mission's launch window runs from Dec. 7 to 17, with the possibility thatit could be extended further if NASA managers decide to allow the mission to runover the New Year.

Launchengineers are looking into a brief power surge in a main circuit used inswitching power from the Discovery's Mobile Launcher Platform to the orbiter anda potentially problematic adhesive on the shuttle's reusable solid rocketmotor's pressure seal.

"Withrespect to the solid rocket motor joint adhesive, I don't think I would evencall it suspect because I don't know enough to be able to even put an adjectiveor a characterization of it," Cain said. "What we know is there is atest out there, or the results of a test, which potentially we need to lookfurther at and determine whether or not we have any concerns."

It is currentlyunknown whether either issue could affect launch but more information is expectedduring a 1:00 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) shuttle manager meeting set for Wednesday.

"Wedon't even know if we have a concern," Cain said. "I wouldn't want tospeculate, really, on either one of those problems and where they might lead,but you can be sure we'll follow the data."

Led by commanderMark Polanksy, the seven-member crewof STS-116 are tasked with delivering a new portside piece of the orbitallaboratory and rewiring the station's electrical grid. Mission specialists SunitaWilliams will also relieve ESA astronaut ThomasReiter who has been aboard the station since July.

The weatheroutlook for Discovery's launch day also deteriorated from 80 percent favorableon Monday to 60 percent by Tuesday evening. The main concern is a cold frontexpected to pass through the launch area Thursday that could bring with itlingering cloud cover, explained Air Force 1st Lt. Kaleb Nordgren ofthe 45th Weather Squadron.

Strongwinds are expected at Kennedy on Friday and Saturday, bringing a 60 percentchance launch attempts could be scrubbed on both days.

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Staff Writer

Ker Than is a science writer and children's book author who joined as a Staff Writer from 2005 to 2007. Ker covered astronomy and human spaceflight while at, including space shuttle launches, and has authored three science books for kids about earthquakes, stars and black holes. Ker's work has also appeared in National Geographic, Nature News, New Scientist and Sky & Telescope, among others. He earned a bachelor's degree in biology from UC Irvine and a master's degree in science journalism from New York University. Ker is currently the Director of Science Communications at Stanford University.