Weather Looks Good for Saturday Shuttle Launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The weather looks good for NASA?s plannedSaturday launch of the shuttle Discovery to deliver a massive new laboratory tothe International Space Station.

?Everything is coming together for launch and that includes theweather,? said shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters during a morning briefinghere at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center. ?There?s an 80 percent chance of goodweather on Saturday.?

Discovery is set to lift off from a seaside launch pad tomorrow at 5:02p.m. EDT (2102 GMT) to haul the $1 billion JapaneseKibo laboratory toward the space station. The shuttle?s seven crewmembers,led by commander Mark Kelly, are scheduled to perform three spacewalks toinstall the new room during their planned14-day mission.

If Discovery does not launchtomorrow, the weather begins to deteriorate, with an increased chance of thunderstormsdelaying the launch.

?If we do happen to delay 24 hours we start to get a little moreconcerned,? Winters said. ?There?s a 30 percent chance of KSC weatherprohibiting launch.?

If the shuttle?s liftoff is delayed by 48 hours, the chances of badweather disrupting the launch rise to 60 percent.

Plans for launch appear to be progressing smoothly, with no last-minuteissues hindering preparations. Shuttle workers have packed away a last-minuteaddition, a spare toilet pump for the space station?s bathroom, so astronautsaboard the outpost can repair the space toilet in orbit. The station?s toiletwent on the fritz last week and astronauts need the new pump to restore it tofull service.

?I?m really happy to report that all of our systems are in great shape,we?re tracking no issues and we?re right on track,? NASA test director JeffSpaulding said today.

The rotating service structure, the giant metal shroud surrounding thespace shuttle on its launch pad, is set to be retracted tonight at 8:30 p.m.EDT (2430 GMT). Discovery?s communications system will be checked out today, withground crews set to perform final configurations on the shuttle and stow thelast of the crew equipment later today.

Discoveryastronauts are in for a somewhat quiet day today as they attend finalbriefings and take some time off to rest and visit with their families beforetheir adventure planned for tomorrow. Engineers are expected to begin fuelingDiscovery?s 15-story external tank for launch at about 7:37 a.m. EDT (1137GMT) tomorrow.

Discovery?s Saturday launch will mark NASA?s third shuttle flight thisyear aimed at delivering a new orbital room to the space station. Astronautsinstalled Europe?s Columbus lab at the station in February, with anothermission in March to deliver a small storage room for Japan?s tour bus-sizedKibo. NASA plans to launch up to five shuttle missions this year, including a flight tooverhaul the Hubble Space Telescope and cargo flight to the space station.

NASA will broadcast the planned launch of Discovery'sSTS-124 mission live on NASA TV, beginning at 12:00 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT) onSaturday. Click here's shuttle mission updates and NASA TV feed.


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Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.