Weather Odds Improve for Friday Shuttle Launch

Space Shuttle Gears up for Home Improvement in Orbit
The space shuttle Endeavour stands atop Launch Pad 39A for the planned Nov. 14, 2008 launch of its STS-126 mission to the ISS.
(Image: © NASA/Troy Cryder.)

CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - The odds are improving for NASA?s planned Friday launch ofthe space shuttle Endeavour as weather concerns dipped slightly today, missionmanagers said.

Endeavour hasa 70 percent chance, a slight increase from Tuesday, of launchingtoward the International Space Station Friday night at 7:55 p.m. EST (0055Nov. 15 GMT), said Kathy Winters, NASA?s shuttle weather officer.

Thepotential for thick clouds and nearby rain showers from an approaching coldfront remain the only threat, but the weather should hit NASA?s Kennedy Space Center spaceporthere in earnest on Saturday, she added.

?We shouldbe a little bit drier tomorrow, but even so that is definitely our main concernfor launch,? Winters said in a morning briefing.

The weatherforecast worsens on Saturday, with rain and clouds expected to reduce Endeavour?slaunch chances to just 30 percent. Thick clouds pose a potential lightning riskto a shuttle during launch, while clear skies are required around NASA?sShuttle Landing Facility in case of an emergency landing.

Commandedby veteran shuttle flyer Chris Ferguson, Endeavour?sseven-astronaut crew is gearing up for a planned 15-day mission to thespace station.

Theastronauts are ferrying a new member of the station?s three-person crew anddelivering a host ofnew equipment that will allow the outpost to support larger, six-personcrews next year. The new equipment includes a space refrigerator and secondkitchen, extra bathroom, two new bedrooms, extra gym equipment and a waterrecycling system to turn urine and waste water into a fresh drinking supply.

Fourspacewalks are planned for the mission to clean and grease up a damaged solararray gear designed to rotate like a paddlewheel to track the sun. Thestarboard side gear has been jammed with metal grit since last year, though aportside version is working fine.

Engineerswill load the final bits of cargo aboard Endeavour later today and are due toroll back the shuttle?s protective Rotating Service Structure late tonight atabout 11:30 p.m. EST (0430 Nov. 14 GMT).

?All of oursystems are in good shape,? said NASA Test Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson.?Endeavour is ready to go.?

NASA hopes to launch Endeavour by Nov. 21 to avoid docking conflicts at the space station with an Russian Progress cargo ship slated to launch later this month. The shuttle flight's launch window closes on Nov. 25 due to unfavorable sun angles and heating concerns at the space station.

Endeavour?sSTS-126 mission will mark NASA?s fourth shuttle flight of the year and the second toblast off at night. The same space shuttle launched into the predawn Floridasky during a March flight to the space station. About one-fourth of NASA?s 123shuttle missions to date have launched at night.

?It?s goingto be a beautiful sight,? Blackwell-Thompson said.

 

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