Houston: Shuttle Discovery astronauts prepared Monday for a second attempt to descend to Earth, after rain at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida forced them to wave off the first of the day’s landing opportunities.
Rainy conditions remained in the outlook for the day’s final Florida landing opportunity, at 10:23 am EDT (1423 GMT).
If waved off for a second time, Nasa planned to make Edwards Air Force Base in California available to the Discovery commander Alan Poindexter and his six crewmates.
Tuesday’s forecast for Florida shows an improved weather outlook, but still included a chance of rain showers within 30 miles (50 kilometers) of the shuttle’s runway.
The outlook at Edwards in California was favorable, but the Discovery commander still held out hope that the Sunshine State would live up to its name long enough to permit a landing there Monday.
“We are looking forward to landing today in Florida if the weather works out,” Poindexter told Mission Control after his crew was awakened with only a small chance of making the planned 8:48 am EDT landing there.
Discovery lifted off on 5 April and docked with the International Space Station two days later, overcoming a communications antenna failure that crippled their rendezvous radar.
The link-up united 13 US, Russian and Japanese astronauts from the two spacecraft for 10 days.
Astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Clay Anderson replaced a bulky external coolant tank during three spacewalks. The ammonia reservoir circulates a coolant through an outstretched radiator to disperse the heat generated by the station’s internal electronics, including the life support systems.
Nasa intends to retire the shuttle program after three more flights, just enough to complete the 12-year-long assembly of the space station.
Until President Obama’s space policy address at Kennedy on 15 April, many of Nasa’s shuttle workers had been holding out hope that the 29-year-old shuttle program might be extended.
Instead, the president re-emphasized his strategy to rely on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from the space station until a US commercial space taxi service is available.
“We are heads down focused on the mission, trying to make sure it’s safe and successful for the crew,” said Bryan Lunney, the Nasa flight director who supervised Discovery’s landing attempts from Mission Control.
“I haven’t gotten too philosophical or concerned about the future — just taking care of business.”