NASA counting down to Tuesday's shuttle launch
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: October 20, 2007
NASA's shuttle launch team started Discovery's countdown today for a launch attempt Tuesday on what many consider the most challenging space station assembly mission yet attempted. Forecasters are predicting a 60 percent chance of good weather.
The countdown began on time at 2 p.m. NASA Test Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said earlier today there were no technical issues of any significance at launch pad 39A.
"In summary, all of our systems are in good shape, our countdown is on schedule, I have no issues to report," she said. "Our team is ready. Discovery is ready and we're looking forward to Tuesday's launch and to a safe and successful mission."
The goal of Discovery's flight is to deliver a new multi-hatch module that will serve as the gateway to European and Japanese research labs scheduled for launch in December, February and April. The shuttle crew also plans to move a set of solar arrays to its permanent mounting point on the end of the station's main power truss.
Aboard the station today, outgoing Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, flight engineer Oleg Kotov and Malaysian guest cosmonaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor made final preparations for return to Earth on Sunday aboard the Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft. Undocking is expected around 3:14 a.m. EDT Sunday with touchdown in Kazakhstan on tap around 6:37 a.m.
Shukor rode into orbit Oct. 10 aboard the Soyuz TMA-11 capsule with Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson, the first female to command the space station, and veteran Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko. Whitson, Malenchenko and NASA astronaut Clay Anderson, launched to the lab complex aboard the shuttle Atlantis last June, will prepare the station for Discovery's arrival late next week.
On Sunday, a few hours after the Soyuz TMA-10 landing, shuttle engineers plan to load liquid hydrogen and oxygen into Discovery to power the ship's electrical generators.
"We will have enough on-board commodities in our power generation system to get four launch attempts in five days," said Blackwell-Thompson. "In summary, all of our systems are in good shape, our countdown is on schedule, I have no issues to report. Our team is ready, Discovery is ready and we're looking forward to Tuesday's launch and to a safe and successful mission."
But shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said she expects only a 60 percent chance of acceptable weather Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday because of an approaching frontal system that could bring low clouds and rain into the area.
"We are concerned about some showers in the area on the day of launch and also due to the fact that the sea breeze will be developing right around the launch time," she said. "We're concerned we could also get some cumulus cloud development within 10 nautical miles of the launch pad and also a (low broken) ceiling could develop in the area as well. So we have several concerns for launch day."
Backup landing sites in New Mexico and California are expected to be "go" next week, but high winds and rain threaten two of the shuttle's three European landing sites Tuesday and Wednesday. All three runways - two in Spain and one in France - are expected to be no-go on Thursday.
Asked about the long-range outlook, Winters said "there's a front that will be threatening the area right around the 48-hour point, sometime in there. So if it doesn't affect us that day it may be an issue for us in the following days."
"Climatologically, if they push through then we start getting crosswind concerns," she said. "But right now, it mainly looks like the front's going to be affecting us sometime around that Thursday time period, or just after that, and then we'd have to start just watching all that moisture coming up with the front. And fronts tend to stall this time of year instead of pushing on through real cleanly so that can leave a lot of ceilings and moisture in the area.
"So right now it doesn't look great, but having many days without (a launch) attempt is not usually typical. Usually we get a good day in there somewhere."