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November 3, 2010 / Dave Gorham

Could Weather Delay Space Shuttle Discovery’s Final Flight Again?

The countdown continues for Discovery’s 39th and final mission into space after being delayed again. The final launch of NASA’s oldest active shuttle was originally planned to take place on November 1st but was delayed until today after technicians made last-minute repairs to plug minor gas leaks. Now NASA has delayed the launch at least 24 more hours to allow time to troubleshoot a problem on one of the orbiter’s main engine controllers. The earliest the launch would now take place is Thursday at 3:29 p.m. (Eastern Time).

Photo: NASA

However, weather conditions are a concern tomorrow as there’s a good chance for scattered showers and thunderstorms across central Florida as a deep low pressure system brings a cold front across the area late Thursday into Friday. Discovery will not launch if there is precipitation at the launch pad or within the flight path. Right now there’s only about a 30% chance the weather will cooperate and if it doesn’t, the mission could be delayed yet again.

Image: ImpactWeather

Other weather criteria that must be met include:

  • Temperatures cannot exceed 99ºF for more than 30 consecutive minutes and the shuttle cannot launch if temperatures are 35ºF or colder. Tomorrow’s high will be near 80ºF with a morning low around 70ºF, so temperatures meet the criteria.
  • Wind constraints can vary for each mission as the peak wind speed allowed is 34 knots. However, if wind direction is between 100 degrees and 260 degrees, the peak speed varies and may be as low as 20 knots. For tomorrow afternoon’s launch, winds will be out of the south between 5-15 mph with gusts as high as 25 (4-13 knots with gusts to 22 knots).

The crew will fly to the International Space Station for 11 days and after its final mission, Discovery will be retired to the Smithsonian.

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