CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA cleared the space shuttle Endeavour for a Tuesdaylanding today, with little concern that Hurricane Dean could impact flightoperations at Mission Control.
Endeavour'sseven astronauts are set to land Tuesday here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center(KSC) at 12:32 p.m. EDT (1632 GMT) after cutting their space stationconstruction mission short by one day due to thehurricane. Strong crosswinds and the slight possibility of rain around thelanding site are the only weather concerns for the shuttle's return, NASA said.
"I wouldsay our chances are pretty good," Steve Stich, NASA's launch and entryflight director for Endeavour's STS-118 mission, told reporters Monday oftomorrow's planned landing.
An analysisof imagery from a late inspection of the orbiter's heat shield also yielded noconcerns Monday.
"Thevehicle has been cleared for entry after late inspection," NASA astronautChris Ferguson told Endeavour's astronaut crew from Mission Control. "Sothat's great news."
Endeavour'slatest bill of good health comes after an earlier heat shield inspection justafter its Aug. 8 launch. NASA also found that a smallbut deep gouge on Endeavour's underbelly - carved by launch debris - and a tinywindow scuff from a micrometeorite hit posed no danger for the shuttle's safereturn.
"I canassure you that Endeavour is not going to suffer any catastrophic damage,"Stich said.
NASA has kepta close watch on the integrity of its shuttle heat shields since the tragic 2003loss of the Columbia orbiter and its astronaut crew.
Stich saidflight controllers did notice a minor nitrogen leak in one of Endeavour's rearengine pods, but it should not hinder Tuesday's planned landing.
Commanded byveteran shuttle flyer Scott Kelly, Endeavour's13-day mission delivered more than two tons of cargo to the International SpaceStation (ISS), replaced a broke gyroscope outside the orbital laboratory and installedspare parts and a new girder to the outpost's starboard side.
Endeavour'screw also includes teacher-turned-spaceflyerBarbara Morgan, who served as Teacher in Space Christa McAuliffe's backup forNASA's ill-fated 1986 Challenger mission. Earlier today, she joined Kelly and STS-118mission specialist Dave Williams, a Canadian Space Agency astronaut, in a videochat with students in Canada's La Ronge, Saskatchewan.
NASA optedto land Endeavour and its STS-118 crew one dayearly due to concerns that Hurricane Dean could swing north and disrupt MissionControl operations at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas.
Whileshuttle mission have repeatedly been prolonged by bad weather at their landingsites, NASA has rarely abbreviated flights for that reason or bad weather inHouston.
"Icannot recall when we've had any situation like this where we've actually movedlanding up by a day in order to sort of give people here to prepare for ahurricane," Stich said from JSC.
But as ofMonday, the massive category four Hurricane Dean was expected to continue on towardscentral Mexico, rather than imperil coastal Texas and Houston, according to theNational Hurricane Center.
"Itwon't affect how we prepare for landing," Kelly told the Saskatchewan duringa space-to-ground educational event. "It's unfortunate for the people inMexico that it's going there."
NASA isbroadcasting Endeavour's STS-118 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for mission updates andSPACE.com's NASA TV feed.
- NEW VIDEO: STS-118: Coming Home
- VIDEO: Teaching the Future: Teacher-Astronaut Barbara Morgan
- Complete Space Shuttle Mission Coverage