MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The space shuttle Discovery is still in orbit. NASA waved off its two possible landing opportunities this morning because of uncertain weather near the runway in Florida. There were low clouds and a possibility of showers. Mission managers say they plan to land the shuttle tomorrow either in Florida or at an alternate landing site. NPR's David Kestenbaum reports from the Kennedy Space Center.
DAVID KESTENBAUM reporting:
The runway here was dark at 3 AM, but up in the darkness, the weather was misbehaving, clouds spontaneously forming. The initial forecast had been for a 90 percent chance of weather cooperating, but it didn't. Mission controllers waved off the first landing opportunity at about a quarter after 3. There was a second landing window, but at 5 AM, the weather was still uncertain. Ken Ham at Mission Control spoke with Commander Eileen Collins aboard the shuttle.
Mr. KEN HAM (Mission Control): Eileen, we've been working this pretty hard, as I'm sure you could imagine from our silence down here. And, again, the one word that describes all this all night has been unstable. Our current observed weather is actually go. However, we just can't get comfortable with the stability of the situation for this particular opportunity.
KESTENBAUM: In the end, managers decided it was better to let the shuttle circle the Earth for another day. A number of people in Mission Control were also there when the Columbia shuttle broke up two and a half years ago.
Mr. HAM: We regret not getting you guys home today. But we feel pretty confident about tomorrow.
Commander EILEEN COLLINS (Discovery): OK. Well, you guys made the right decisions, and we're with you. We're going to enjoy another day on orbit, and we'll see you on Earth tomorrow.
KESTENBAUM: The mornings here are often clear. On Sunday, an alligator lounged in the sun by the road leading to the runway. If things look iffy tomorrow, NASA may tell the crew to land at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The weather there is usually more reliable. As a back-up, the crew could also land at a site in White Sands, New Mexico. It's not unusual to have to delay a landing. Carl Walz, a veteran astronaut, was monitoring this morning's activities.
Mr. CARL WALZ (Astronaut): We have to be very conservative when we're bringing in the shuttle. The shuttle's basically just a glider when it comes in, so it can't do a go-around. So we look very carefully at the weather and make sure it's just absolutely going to be great before we commit to bringing a shuttle in.
KESTENBAUM: NASA once had to postpone a landing for four consecutive days. Managers have less flexibility with this mission; supplies start to run out after Wednesday. Electrical power on board is generated by a fuel cell, which combines oxygen and hydrogen. The process also produces water, which the astronauts can drink, but stores of hydrogen and oxygen are limited. Commander Eileen Collins says she has been rehearsing this coming landing for days in her head. She'll now have another day to do that. For the crew on Discovery, the delay also means some time to finally do what everyone would like to do in space: relax and look down on the Earth.
Unidentified Woman: Discovery, go ahead.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man #1: Yeah. I was wondering if you really need fresh air set up or not.
Unidentified Woman: We do not. And I see you have the stereo on.
Unidentified Man #1: Well, that's the main reason we brought up the computers. That's our theme song, "Secret Agent Man."
Unidentified Woman: Copy that.
(Soundbite of "Secret Agent Man")
Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Secret agent man, secret agent man.
KESTENBAUM: David Kestenbaum, NPR News, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
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