Saturday, July 01, 2006

Weather may stop Discovery launch

Bad weather, rather than safety fears, looks set to delay the 2nd Space Shuttle launch since the disaster 2 years ago when Columbia burned up on re-entry in February 2003 [BBC]. Meteorologists are forecasting a 60% chance of cloudy skies and showers and the mission is likely to be put on hold. Birds, specifically Vultures, may a hazard to the launch of STS-121 according to a report on CNN. STS-121 has a number of tasks to complete as a part of its mission. Twenty-one biological and technical experiments are assigned to STS-121. In one experiment, researchers will study the effects of spaceflight on the immune system by measuring astronauts' white blood cell levels before and after the mission. A technical experiment will test a new coolant mixture that is expected not to freeze when auxiliary power is turned off, which happens with the current coolant -- water. Mission specialists Mike Fossum and Piers Sellers will also perform two 6.5 hour extra-vehicular activities (EVAs). They will test the shuttle's 100-foot robotic arm to see if it can provide a stable platform for working on hard-to-reach areas of the orbiter and replace broken parts of the space station's movable robotic arm. The risk of not completing the mission will only add to the debate to cut expenditure on the Space budget further. A catastrophic failure could shut down the whole shuttle program NASA administrator Michael Griffin suggested. "If we have a major unexpected piece of foam come off, then clearly we're quite vulnerable. It says that there is a lot about this that we still don't understand," Griffin said. Griffin has said he would move to shut down the program if there were another accident or serious problem with the shuttle [Reuters]. Discovery is set to launch at 19:49 GMT [15:49 EDT local time] from the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, on Saturday 1st July [NASA]. Posted by Picasa

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