Atlantis Return Remains Up In The Air

In this image provided by NASA, Space Shuttle Atlantis is backdropped by the blackness of space and the thin line of Earth's atmosphere Wednesday, May 20, 2009. (AP Photo/NASA) AP Photo/NASA

Space shuttle Atlantis and its astronauts will spend yet another day in orbit.

NASA called off all landing attempts for Saturday because of thunderstorms in Florida. Mission Control told the seven astronauts that the weather was not cooperating at the main touchdown site at Kennedy Space Center, but that it was looking up for Sunday. So Mission Control decided to keep the astronauts in orbit a 13th day rather than head to the backup landing site in California.

The astronauts will have two opportunities to land in Florida Sunday and two at Edwards. For first Florida opportunity, the astronauts would fire Atlantis' twin braking rockets at 8:58 a.m., setting up a landing around 10:11 a.m. A second Florida landing opportunity is available at 11:49 a.m., reports CBS News space consultant Bill Harwood.

Thunderstorms also thwarted Friday's landing attempts.

Atlantis and its crew are trying to wind up their Hubble Space Telescope repair mission. It was NASA's last visit to the 19-year-old observatory. The $1 billion overhaul should keep the telescope working for another five to 10 years.

Commander Scott Altman and his six crewmates are trying to wind up their Hubble repair mission, which began 12 days ago. It was NASA's last visit to the 19-year-old observatory. The $1 billion overhaul should keep the telescope working for another five to 10 years.

Unlike the day before, NASA had the option Saturday of sending Atlantis to the backup landing site in Southern California.

The weather at Edwards Air Force Base is expected to be good all weekend, but it takes time and money - close to $2 million - to ferry a shuttle cross-country. There was still a possibility Mission Control might hold out for a Sunday landing at Kennedy, given an improved weather forecast.

The mission culminated earlier this week with the release of Hubble, freshly restored and considered at its scientific peak thanks to the astronauts' effort. In five back-to-back spacewalks, they gave the observatory new science instruments and fixed two others, and replaced batteries, gyroscopes and other aging parts.

Meanwhile, 19 years after helping launch the Hubble Space Telescope, Charles F. Bolden Jr., a former fighter pilot, Marine Corps major general and veteran space shuttle commander, has been selected by the Obama administration to serve as NASA's next administrator. Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator for policy and plans and a space policy advisor to the Obama campaign, will serve as Bolden's deputy, Harwood reports.

For more info:
  • Hubble Space Telescope
  • CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood's "Space Place" updates
    • CBSNews

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