Discovery Hopes To Return Today

The International Space Station, backdropped by a blue and white Earth, moves away from Space Shuttle Discovery Saturday July 15, 2006. (AP Photo/NASA)
AP Photo/NASA
Discovery's astronauts woke up early Monday morning with hopes that a bank of storm clouds would not keep them from coming back to Earth within a few hours.

Mission control woke the crew with the song "The Astronaut" by Something Corporate.

When mission control woke up the astronauts just after 1 a.m. EDT, Discovery commander Steve Lindsey made it clear that his crew, weary after a 13-day mission that he said was the busiest of his four fights, wanted to come home.

"Hopefully, with good weather we will be on the ground" later Monday, Lindsey told mission control as he woke up.

The weather forecast was mixed for Monday morning at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the only landing site NASA has called up for the day. Rain clouds to the north were forecast to dip south, and the big question is whether they will hold off in time for landing.

NASA has two landing opportunities Monday at Kennedy: 9:14 a.m. EDT and 10:50 a.m. EDT.

The weather looks better for the first opportunity. The landing rules say rain has to be 30 miles away because rain could damage the shuttle's tiles.

NASA's spaceflight meteorology group predicted scattered Monday morning showers and storms, with worse weather Tuesday. The National Weather Service's forecast was for a 55 percent chance of rain at the shuttle landing strip as of early Monday morning.


Check for shuttle status updates at Bill Harwood's Space Place.
Landing officials have to make a "go-no-go" decision for the first landing try at 7:47 a.m. EDT.

On that first landing attempt, Discovery would fly to Florida from the south, coming over the Yucatan Peninsula, pass by the western tip of Cuba and into Kennedy. This would be the first landing at Kennedy in nearly four years. Last year's flight of Discovery, after weather delays, came down at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the backup site.

If Discovery can't land at Kennedy on Monday, NASA will call up Edwards and try to land at either location Tuesday, weather permitting, landing director Steve Stich said. The shuttle has to land no later than Wednesday because after that it will run out of oxygen for its fuel cells, he said.

Landing at Edwards costs NASA about $1.7 million more because it has to get the shuttle back to Florida.

CBS News correspondent Teri Okita reports the shuttle crew spent Sunday doing final top-to-bottom checks of the spacecraft. They also tested a leaking unit that powers hydraulics used for steering and braking.

NASA also triple-checked the place where small bits of foam broke away during lift-off. But it found no red flags for the voyage home and no damage to Discovery's protective skin.

The shuttle itself was cleared Sunday for landing. After seven different inspection efforts, engineers and astronauts couldn't find any damage to the shuttle's heat shield. A small leak with one of three power units that control braking and maneuvering for landing did not appear to be a big deal, NASA mission managers decided Sunday.

Discovery completed all its assigned tasks, including making sure repairs to the shuttle external tank were successful, fixing a rail car on the international space station, and bringing the station a new crew member.