Discovery launch delayed to Saturday
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: December 7, 2006
After a nail-biting, down-to-the-wire countdown, launch director Mike Leinbach called off an attempt to launch the shuttle Discovery tonight on a critical space station mission because of low, thickening clouds over the Kennedy Space Center.
"We gave it our best shot and did not get clear and convincing evidence in the end that the cloud-ceiling rule would clear enough or us," Leinbach radioed the astronauts at 9:36 p.m. "So we're going to have declare a scrub at this time. Appreciate your support and we'll come up with a scrub-turnaround plan for you."
"We understand," commander Mark Polansky replied from Discovery's flight deck. "Thank the team for all their hard work, try not to be too disappointed. We will be ready to support the next time we get a chance."
Launch tonight was targeted for 9:35:48 p.m., but low clouds caused concern throughout the final hours of the countdown, primarily because of their potential impact on a return-to-launch-site abort. Launch managers also were concerned about the weather at emergency runways in Spain and France.
As it turned out, the rain in Spain appeared within limits and conditions in Florida were deemed acceptable for an RTLS, should an emergency be declared shortly after launch. But during a hold at the T-minus nine-minute mark, weather officers decided a low deck of clouds over the space center was too thick, violating launch commit criteria.
Leinbach decided to take the countdown to the T-minus five-minute mark and hold there, hoping conditions would improve during the final five minutes of the 10-minute launch window. But it was not to be and he reluctantly cut off the countdown.
The shuttle's overall launch periord extends through Dec. 26. But NASA managers want to launch Discovery before Dec. 17 if at all possible to avoid having the shuttle in orbit on New Year's day. The shuttle's navigation software was not designed to fly over a year-end rollover and some clocks would consider Jan. 1 to be day 366 instead of the first day of the new year.
The astronauts can reset those systems, but it's a complex procedure in an already complicated flight. In addition, flight controllers don't want the shuttle to make the "YERO" transition unless it's docked to the space station at the time. That requirement would prevent a launch between Dec. 18 and 22.