Discovery in good shape for launch; forecasters monitor weather

CBS News

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--NASA managers met Monday to review the shuttle Discovery's readiness for flight and unanimously agreed to press ahead with launch Wednesday, weather permitting, on a voyage to the International Space Station. It will be Discovery's 39th and final mission.

"There's still a certain amount of disbelief that it's really her final launch," said Launch Director Michael Leinbach. "We all know it, we've come to grips with that fact, but it's hard to believe after having Discovery and the rest of the fleet for 30 years flying so well for America. It's difficult to accept emotionally, but rationally we all know it's coming to an end and we need to get on with it."

Forecasters are predicting a 70 percent chance of acceptable weather for launch Wednesday at 3:52:13 p.m. EDT (EDT=GMT-4). But an approaching frontal system from the north and Tropical Storm Tomas to the south are expected to cause problems later in the week.

"We had our L-minus-two mission management team meeting this morning, it went very quickly," said Mike Moses, shuttle integration manager and chairman of the MMT. "We didn't have any technical issues to discuss. We got a good briefing on what's in front of us with some of the fronts coming in and the tropical storm system down to the south. But again, no technical issues, everybody polled 'go' to head into count, no problems whatsoever."

The Spaceflight Meteorology Group at the Johnson Space Center is predicting a chance of showers within 20 nautical miles of the shuttle's emergency runway and a chance of broken clouds at 3,000 feet, both violations of NASA's launch weather criteria. Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters, speaking to reporters at the Kennedy Space Center, put the odds for acceptable conditions Wednesday at 70 percent.

The forecast for Thursday calls for a broken deck at 3,000 feet and a chance of thunderstorms within 20 nautical miles, resulting in a 60 percent "no-go" prediction. Conditions are expected to improve Friday with a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions.

Hoping for the best, Discovery's six-member all-veteran crew plan to deliver a pressurized cargo module loaded with equipment and supplies, along with an external storage platform carrying a spare set of cooling system radiators.

Assuming an on-time launch, Discovery will dock with the space station around 12:36 p.m. Friday. Two spacewalks are planned, on Nov. 7 and 9, with undocking on tap Nov. 12 at 5:02 a.m. and landing back at the Kennedy Space Center at 9:59 a.m. Nov. 14.

Discovery's launch window extends through Nov. 7 and possibly Nov. 8. The next launch window opens Dec. 1 and closes Dec. 5.