NASA?sspace shuttle Endeavour is ready for its planned launch into orbit this weekend,though stormy weather could delay liftoff, mission managers said Wednesday.
Endeavour anda crew of sevenastronauts are slated to launch toward the International Space Station on Saturdayevening at 7:39 p.m. EDT (2339 GMT). But the potential for thunderstorms and thickclouds near Endeavour?s launch site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida givethe shuttle only a 40 percent chance of good flight weather, said shuttle weatherofficer Kathy Winters.
?That?s definitelya concern for launch,? Winters said during a televised mission briefing today.
A series ofafternoon thunderstorms have peppered NASA?s spaceport in Cape Canaveral, Fla.,in recent days in a trend that is expected to weaken only slightly through theweekend, she added. If weather prevents a Saturday launchfor Endeavour, the forecast will improve for Sunday, Winters said.
Aside frompotentially foul weather, Endeavour is ready to fly after nearly a month ofdelays. A hydrogen gas leak associated with a vent line on the shuttle?s15-story external tank thwarted two consecutive launch attempts in mid-June.Since then, engineers have replaced a misaligned plate on the tank as well asvent line seal to plug the leak. The fix passed a fueling test last week.
?Endeavour?sin great shape,? NASA test director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said, addingthat there are no issues with the shuttle at all. ?We?re ready to fly thismission.?
Commandedby veteran shuttle flyer Mark Polansky, Endeavour?s six-man, one-woman crew isset to fly a marathon 16-day mission to the space station. The astronauts willdeliver a new member of the orbiting laboratory?s six-mancrew and install the last piece of Japan?s massiveKibo laboratory at the outpost. Five spacewalks are planned for the mission.
?This is avery busy mission,? Blackwell-Thompson said. ?We?re all eager to get Endeavourand her crew to the International Space Station.?
Polanskyand his crew arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday. NASA plans tobegin the countdown toward Saturday?s launch tonight at 10:00 p.m. EDT (0200July 9 GMT).
Endeavourhas a slim four-day day window to launch toward the space station due to otherincoming traffic at the outpost. According to NASA?s current plan,Endeavour must launch by July 14 or else stand down until July 27 to allow a previouslyscheduled unmanned Russian cargo ship to dock at the station. The unmannedcargo ship can loiter in orbit for a few days if required, NASA has said.
Blackwell-Thompsonsaid NASA hopes to launch Endeavour by July 13 to avoid interfering with thecargo ship?s normal flight plan.
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