NASA claimed they would delay the return of the space shuttle Discovery to Earth on Monday due to weather worries at the Kennedy Space Centre.
The shuttle had been due to land at 4:47 a.m. EDT (0847 GMT) (947 BST) to bring to an end the first shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster in 2003. A second landing opportunity was scheduled at 6:22 a.m. EDT (1022 GMT), Reuters informs.
Mission Control waived the shuttle crew off over concern about low broken clouds hanging about 1,000 feet in the vicinity of the shuttle landing site here.
The second and final landing opportunity for Monday is scheduled for 6:22 a.m. ET. The de-orbit burn would begin at 5:15 a.m. ET, so NASA would need to decide whether to go for it by around 5 a.m. ET. If weather forced another delay, the next opportunity for the shuttle to land would be early Tuesday.
The delay also means a change in the shuttle's flight path. It will now take a more northerly landing track coming from the southwest near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula; then over the Gulf of Mexico coming over the west coast of Florida near Tampa.
The Discovery mission's goals were to resupply the space station, and to test the inspection and repair techniques that NASA developed in the wake of Columbia's catastrophic breakup, MSNBC informs.
NASA set up scores of cameras to record Discovery's launch and built a new kind of laser- and camera-equipped inspection boom to survey the shuttle's protective skin while on orbit. During one of the mission's three spacewalks, Discovery astronauts Stephen Robinson and Soichi Noguchi tested patches and fillers that could be used to mend gaps in the shuttle's tiles or reinforced panels.
The pair also repaired one of the station's gyroscopes and replaced another one, bringing the station's four-gyro guidance system to full strength for the first time in three years. During the third spacewalk, they installed a storage platform on the station for future construction jobs — and then Robinson took an unprecedented ride on the station's robotic arm to Discovery's tile-covered belly, where he removed the protruding gap fillers by hand.
Discovery's crew delivered tons of supplies to the station, and for the return trip, they loaded the shuttle with tons of trash and old equipment from the station.
The mission was extended by a day to allow for more transfers, in large part because it may be longer than expected before a space shuttle pays another visit.
It was during re-entry that the shuttle Columbia disintegrated in February 2003 over Texas, killing all seven astronauts aboard and grounding the shuttle fleet. Investigators concluded that flying foam insulation from the shuttle's external fuel tank cracked a hole in the left wing, allowing superheated atmospheric gases to enter and destroy Columbia from within.
NASA responded to the disaster by making dozens of upgrades in the shuttle and its tank, and also subjecting Discovery to the most exhaustive on-orbit inspection ever. NASA's cameras spotted a flying piece of foam debris — which, fortunately, did not strike the orbiter — as well as two protruding gap fillers that were pulled out during an unprecedented spacewalk. But overall, mission managers said Discovery was one of the "cleanest birds" ever, and they expected a trouble-free re-entry.
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