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Weather forces 24-hour shuttle launch delay

Launch of the shuttle Discovery is pushed back another 24 hours to Friday. If the ISS resupply mission is not off the ground by Sunday, launch will slip to December.

Shuttle Discovery on Launch Pad 39A
Space shuttle Discovery on Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A, awaiting a break in the weather.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--With rain showers and low clouds sweeping over NASA's Florida spaceport, agency managers decided early today not to fuel the shuttle Discovery and delayed launch another 24 hours to 3:04 p.m. EDT tomorrow.

While conditions will improve in the wake of a cold front, forecasters are predicting a 40 percent chance of high winds that could cause another scrub.

NASA's Mission Management Team made the decision to delay launch after a 5:30 a.m. EDT teleconference and a weather briefing that called for a broken decks of clouds at 3,000 and 6,000 feet, overcast at 15,000 feet, winds out of 240 degrees at 13 knots with gusts to 20 knots, and showers within 20 nautical miles of the runway. The low clouds, showers and winds are in violation of NASA flight safety rules.

"Our team was prepared and ready to execute tanking this morning," said Pete Nickolenko, assistant launch director. "Our tanking weather would have been acceptable, however the launch forecast continues to be poor, with solid rain showers forecast throughout the course of the day...The team concluded it was not prudent to pick up with tanking today."

The forecast for tomorrow calls for few clouds and no rain. But shuttle weather officers are predicting winds out of 330 degrees at 17 knots with gusts to 26 knots--also a violation of launch weather guidelines. The overall forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of weather prohibiting launch. The odds are 60 percent "no-go" on Saturday.

As it now stands, engineers plan to begin fueling Discovery at 5:39 a.m. EDT tomorrow. The shuttle's six-member crew--commander Steven Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe, Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt, and spacewalkers Timothy Kopra and Alvin Drew--will begin strapping in around 11:44 a.m. to await liftoff at 3:04 p.m.

Discovery's current launch window closes Sunday due to temperature constraints after the shuttle is docked to the International Space Station--its destination in this resupply mission. Flight controllers are assessing whether the window could be extended another day or so, but that has not yet been decided.

If Discovery does not take off during the current window, the flight will be delayed to December. The year's final shuttle window opens December 1 and closes December 5.