Endeavour in good shape; pre-launch weather a concern

CBS News

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL--The shuttle Endeavour's countdown is proceeding smoothly toward launch Friday with no technical problems of any significance and forecasters predicting an 80 percent chance of good weather. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the gravely injured wife of shuttle commander Mark Kelly, flew to Florida from Houston Wednesday, her first major trip since an assassination attempt in January.

The shuttle Endeavour atop pad 39A, on track for blastoff Friday at 3:47:52 p.m. EDT. (Credit: NASA TV)
President Barack Obama also plans to attend Endeavour's launching, landing aboard Air Force One at the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday. The president and his family will visit a shuttle processing hangar before Endeavour's planned takeoff at 3:47:52 p.m. Obama is scheduled to fly to Miami later in the afternoon.

As for Giffords, "we treat that just like a crew family visit," said MIke Moses, director of shuttle integration at the Kennedy Space Center. "She needs a little extra care and attention. There's going to be a lot of extra, outside attention placed on it, but from a what-we're-doing (standpoint), she's NASA family and we're treating her just like we do all the rest of the crew families."

Crew families typically watch shuttle take offs from the roof of the Launch Control Center 3.4 miles from the pad. And that's where President Clinton and wife Hillary watched former Sen. John Glenn's 1998 shuttle launch. A crane was parked by the building Wednesday and workers could be seen hauling material of some sort to the roof.

With only two flights left before the shuttle program comes to an end, large crowds are expected around the Kennedy Space Center to watch Endeavour's 25th and final liftoff. Launch Director Mike Leinbach said Brevard County law enforcement officials estimated some 400,000 spectators turned out for the shuttle Discovery's final flight in February. Between 500,000 and 750,000 spectators are expected for Endeavour's launch.

The Launch Control Center adjacent to NASA's towering Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. Astronaut families can view a shuttle launch from the roof of the LCC. (Credit: William Harwood/CBS News)
"What local law enforcement has told us is that whatever drive delay we experienced for (Discovery's) launch, it's going to be about 50 percent longer this time going home," Leinbach said. "It's going to be tough to get home. But when you think about why the people are coming, to experience something that's uniquely American and be able to see one of the last two flights, that gives me a lot of pride."

Forecasters are predicting an 80 percent chance of good weather Friday for Endeavour's launching. The only concern is possibly high crosswinds at the emergency runway where Kelly and pilot Gregory Johnson would have to attempt a landing if a main engine failed early in flight.

Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said a front is expected to move through the area Thursday , bringing possibly severe thunderstorms to the Kennedy Space Center that night. Lightning could hold up plans to retract a protective gantry, but Leinbach said the countdown could accommodate a four- to five-hour delay with no impact on fueling and launch.

"That really shouldn't be a problem for us," he said.

If all goes well, engineers will begin pumping liquid oxygen and hydrogen rocket fuel into Endeavour's external tank around 6:22 a.m. Friday. Kelly, Johnson and their crewmates -- Michael Fincke, Gregory Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori -- will strap in around 12:30 p.m. to await liftoff.

"We're not working any significant issues at all," Leinbach said. "The team's upbeat. I talked to the firing room this morning, and they're all excited about the mission, about the countdown, the president showing up. We're dealing with that, it's a little bit of a challenge for us, but the team is not distracted by that."