Stormy weather prompts 24-hour launch delay (UPDATED)

Editor's note...
  • Posted at 06:25 AM, 11/04/10: Shuttle launch delayed 24 hours by weather
  • Updated at 07:08 AM, 11/04/10: Correcting weather forecast; adding quotes
  • Updated at 07:20 AM, 11/04/10: Adding updated flight plan milestones
  • Updated at 02:40 PM, 11/04/10: Updating launch time
CBS News

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--With rain showers and low clouds sweeping over NASA's Florida spaceport, agency managers decided early Thursday not to fuel the shuttle Discovery, delaying launch another 24 hours to Friday at 3:04:01 p.m. EDT. While conditions will improve in the wake of a cold front, forecasters are predicting a 40 percent chance of high winds that could cause another scrub.

NASA's Mission Management Team made the decision to delay launch after a 5:30 a.m. telecon and a weather briefing that called for a broken decks of clouds at 3,000 and 6,000, overcast at 15,000 feet, winds out of 240 degrees at 13 knots with gusts to 20 and showers within 20 nautical miles of the runway.

Rain showers at pad 39A early Thursday. (Photo: NASA)

The low clouds, showers and winds were in violation of NASA flight safety rules and the Mission Management Team decided to call off Thursday's launch attempt.

"Our team was prepared and ready to execute tanking this morning," said Pete Nickolenko, the assistant launch director. "Our tanking weather would have been acceptable, however the launch forecast continues to be poor, with solid rain showers forecast throughout the course of the day. ... The team concluded it was not prudent to pick up with tanking today. At this point, we're going to be inserting a 24-hour delay in our countdown procedures."

The forecast for Friday calls for few clouds and no rain. But forecasters are predicting winds out of 330 degrees at 17 knots with gusts to 26, a violation of the launch weather guidelines. The overall forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of local weather prohibiting launch. The odds worsen to 60 percent "no-go" on Saturday.

"The weather forecasters did indicate this frontal system should pass through later tonight and of course, on the backside of a cold front we'll get drier weather. Of course, it'll be windier, too, so we'll be watching the winds tomorrow to see what the launch winds and the potential headwind issues may be, if any, for us. And then also we'll be watching the upper level winds."

As it now stands, engineers plan to begin fueling Discovery at 5:39 a.m. Friday. The shuttle's six-member crew -- commander Steven Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe, Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt and spacewalkers Timothy Kopra and Alvin Drew -- will begin strapping in around 11:44 a.m. to await liftoff at 3:04:01 p.m.

Assuming an on-time launch, Lindsey will guide Discovery to a docking with the International Space Station at 10:55 a.m. Sunday. Spacewalks are planned for Nov. 9 and 11. If all goes well, Discovery will undock at 4:21 a.m. on Nov. 14 and land back at the Kennedy Space Center at 9:16 a.m. on Nov. 16.

Discovery's current launch window closes Sunday due to temperature constraints after the shuttle is docked to the International Space Station. Flight controllers are assessing whether the window could be extended another day or so, but that has not yet been decided.

Either way, if Discovery does not get off during the current window, the flight will be delayed to December. The year's final shuttle window opens Dec. 1 and closes Dec. 5.