NASA Holds Space Shuttle Move for Tropical Storm

NASA Holds Space Shuttle Move for Tropical Storm
In the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, space shuttle Atlantis approaches the floor of the mobile launcher platform in high bay 3. (Image credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

NASA isholding off on moving the space shuttle Atlantis to its Florida launch pad thisweek to ensure it is not threatened by Tropical Storm Hanna, the agency saidTuesday.

While theshuttle could make the 3-mile (4.8-km) trek to the seaside launch pad as earlyas Thursday, it?s more likely to move on Saturday after Hanna has passed, saidNASA spokesperson Allard Beutel of the Kennedy SpaceCenter (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

?We?rewatching and protecting our options,? Beutel told SPACE.com.?I think we?re all pretty much figuring it will be Saturday.?

Shuttleworkers at KSC had initially planned to move Atlantis to Launch Pad 39A earlyMonday but held off a day to monitor Hanna, which as of Tuesday had weakened backto a tropical storm after reaching hurricane status over the weekend. NASAhoped to attempt the shuttle move early Wednesday, but later shifted to noearlier than Thursday at 12:01 a.m. EDT (0401 GMT) with Saturday a more likelytarget.

Until Hannapasses, Atlantis and its attached external fuel tank and solid rocket boosterswill stay in the shelter of NASA?s 52-Vehicle Assembly Building at thespaceport.

As of 2:00p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) Tuesday, Hanna was headed for the southeastern Bahamas withmaximum sustained winds of about 70 mph (110 kph) andhigher gusts, according to a National Hurricane Center status report. The stormis expected to strengthen over Wednesday and Thursday, with current forecastspredicting it to move northwest off the eastern coastof Florida.

?We?reexpecting tropical force winds,? Beutel said.

NASA istargeting an Oct. 8 launch for Atlantis and a crew of seven astronauts to payone last service call on the Hubble Space Telescope.

Last week,mission managers wereweighing options to push the mission to Oct. 10 or 11 due to processingdelays caused by the last month?s Tropical Storm Fay, which prompted NASA to closeits KSC spaceport for three days. A further launch delay appears likely thelonger Atlantis remains inside the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building.

Beutelsaid today that the spaceport was operating at Hurricane Condition Four, thecenter?s lowest alert level, to secure loose debris in anticipation of windspeeds reaching 50 knots (58 mph) in the next 72 hours.

Accordingto NASA?s hurricane plan, space shuttles cannot remain at a launch pad if windsare forecast to reach top speeds of 70 knots (79 mph). The plan also forbidsspace shuttles to move between launch pads and NASA?s cavernous Vehicle AssemblyBuilding after winds reach sustained speeds of 40 knots (46 mph) with gusts upto 60 knots (69 mph) and lightning within a 23-mile (37-km) radius.

Atlantis?October spaceflight is the fourth of five NASA shuttle flights planned for2008. The year?s final scheduled mission, a planned Nov. 10 launch aboardEndeavour to deliver supplies and equipment to the International Space Station,must fly before Nov. 25, when NASA would stand down due to unfavorable lighting andheating concerns at the orbiting outpost, agency officials have said.

 

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Tariq Malik
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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com 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 Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, 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 (opens in new tab) 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 Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast (opens in new tab) with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network (opens in new tab). To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik (opens in new tab).