Bad Weather Prevents Space Shuttle's 1st Landing Try

Weather Iffy for Space Shuttle Landing Thursday
Rugged Earth terrain serves as the backdrop for shuttle Discovery after its STS-128 crew undocked from the International Space Station on Sept. 8, 2009. A station astronaut took this photograph of the shuttle as it departed.
(Image: © NASA)

Thisstory was updated 5:36 p.m. EDT.

NASAordered astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery to circle the Earth atleast one more time Thursday after bad weather thwarted the spacecraft?sfirst of two possible landing attempts.

Discoverywas slated to land just after 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) at NASA?s Kennedy SpaceCenter in Florida, but unexpectedly high crosswinds and thunderstorms preventedits return. The shuttle has one more chance to land today at 8:40 p.m. EDT (0040Sept. 11 GMT), but poor weather conditions are also expected.

The shuttleis returning to Earth to conclude a 13-day cargo run to the International SpaceStation.

Discoveryblasted off late Aug. 28 and has enough supplies to remain in space untilSunday. But entry flight director Richard Jones said he wants to bring theshuttle home by Saturday at the latest.

If theweather in Florida shows no sign of letting up Saturday, Jones may opt to landthe shuttle Friday at a backup runway at California?s Edwards Air Force Base.But a Florida landing is preferable since it will return Discovery to its homeport.

NASA?slanding rules require no thunderstorms within about 30 miles (48 km) of therunaway to avoid flying shuttles through rain, which can damage their fragileheat shields. Discovery is carrying a special heat shield tile with anintentional ?speed bump? as part of an unrelated experiment studying re-entryheating, mission managers said.

Earliertoday, Discovery had to fire its engines to dodge what Mission Control called ?mysteryorbital debris,? a piece of space junk that was expected to fly too closeto the shuttle for comfort. The debris separated from either Discovery or thespace station on Saturday during a spacewalk, though NASA does not know whatthe object is or its size.

Sturckowfired Discovery?s twin orbital maneuvering system engines to move the shuttleclear of the debris and it did not hamper the shuttle?s landing preparations.

Homewardbound

Discoverydelivered 18,548 pounds (8,413 kg) of food, science equipment and other vitalsupplies to the space station. The shuttle crew performed three spacewalks anddelivered an air-scrubbing device, the equivalent of an astronaut bedroom and anew treadmill named after TVcomedian Stephen Colbert.

Colbert wonan online poll to have a new space station room named after him earlier thisyear, but NASA gave him the treadmill - known as the Combined Operational LoadBearing External Resistance Treadmill - instead. The agency named the new roomTranquility after the Apollo 11 moon base.

Thetreadmill will be assembled by astronaut Nicole Stott, who arrived at thestation aboard Discovery and replaced Kopra as part of its six-person crew. ButCOLBERT, which is in more than 100 pieces, will have to wait until after a newJapanese cargo ship arrives at the station.

That cargoship, Japan?s inaugural H-2 Transfer Vehicle, launched today at 1:01 p.m. EDT(1701 GMT) from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. The unmannedspacecraft is packed with about 3 1/2 tons of cargo for both inside and outsidethe station and is due to arrive Sept. 17, when Stott plans to pluck it fromspace with the outpost?s robotic arm.

While thestation crew awaits the new cargo ship, Discovery?s crew is looking forward tolife back on Earth.

?Space hasbeen great!,? shuttle astronaut Jose Hernandez - a first-time spaceflyer -wrote Wednesday via Twitter, where he?s been posting updates from orbit. ?Wordscannot describe this experience! The take home is our planet is very beautiful!Let?s take care of it.?

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SPACE.comis providing complete coverage of Discovery's STS-128 mission to theInternational Space Station with Managing Editor Tariq Malik and Staff WriterClara Moskowitz in New York. Clickhere for shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV.

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