Hard-to-predict weather grounds shuttle Discovery

Shuttle Discovery is grounded by Florida's mercurial weather, delaying a 13-day space station resupply and crew rotation mission by 24 hours.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Florida's hard-to-predict weather threw the shuttle Discovery's crew a curve ball early Tuesday, worsening when forecasters predicted improvement, generating unexpected lightning and offshore storms.

While conditions improved as the morning wore on, the launch team ran out of time and NASA managers were forced to order a 24-hour delay.

Radar shows storm cells near launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Conditions improved as Discovery's launch time approached, but it was not enough and NASA managers ordered a delay. NASA TV

"Well, looks like everything else was cooperating except for our local area weather," Launch Director Pete Nickolenko said to Mike Moses, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team, during a final hold in the countdown.

"Yep, if we had 30 more minutes to go I think we'd have a real good shot today," Moses said. "But it's obviously not the right thing to do. So we can knock it off."

"Yes sir, will do," Nickolenko said at 1:25 a.m. EDT He then called Discovery commander Frederick "Rick" Sturckow, saying "well, CJ, the vehicle and the operations were cooperating but the local weather unfortunately did not. So we'll have to scrub for the day, but hope to try again tomorrow."

"We copy that, sir," Sturckow replied. "When the weather is ready to cooperate, we'll be ready to go."

Launch was originally set for 1:36 a.m. EDT Tuesday and other than the weather, there were no problems of any significance.

Forecasters predicted an 80 percent chance of good weather at launch time, but the air was unstable, storms did not dissipate as expected and the forecast was downgraded to 60 percent no-go after the crew strapped in for launch.

Finally, with persistent rain showers and lightning strikes near the pad, Nickolenko called off the countdown.

Sturckow, pilot Kevin Ford, flight engineer Jose Hernandez, Patrick Forrester, John "Danny" Olivas, European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang and space station flight engineer Nicole Stott climbed out of the orbiter about an hour and a half later, looking tired but in good spirits.

Assuming no problems develop, NASA will reset the countdown for a launch attempt at 1:10 a.m. Wednesday. The most recent forecast called for a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions.

NASA must get Discovery off the pad by August 30, or the flight will be delayed to mid-October because of upcoming Japanese and Russian space station launches and a conflict with the Air Force Eastern Range, which provides tracking and telemetry for all rockets launched from Florida.

If the weather or a technical problem prevents a launch Wednesday, the shuttle team likely will stand down for 24 hours and then make two more back-to-back attempts Friday and Saturday.

The primary goals of the 13-day mission are to deliver more than 7.5 tons of equipment and supplies to the International Space Station and to ferry Stott to the lab complex to replace outgoing flight engineer Timothy Kopra.

Updated at 12:45 p.m. EDT: Correcting shuttle launch window; Discovery must be off by August 30.

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About the author

    Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He has covered more than 125 shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune, and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia." You can follow his frequent status updates at the CBS News Space page.

     

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