Weather delays homecoming from space

 

Clouds, winds force shuttle Discovery to take at least one more orbit.

   CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Cloudy and windy weather forced NASA to delay the shuttle Discovery’s homecoming Saturday following a successful space station construction mission.

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Mission Control ordered the seven astronauts to skip their first landing opportunity and keep circling the world in hopes the conditions in Florida improve. They have one more chance for an afternoon touchdown before having to give up for the day.

The wind had picked up throughout the morning at NASA’s spaceport, and the clouds appeared to be building.

 

“We think both those things have a good chance of looking better for our second opportunity today,” Mission Control radioed.

Sunday’s forecast was more dire, with a cold front expected to bring thunderstorms.

Commander Lee Archambault and his crew are winding up a 13-day mission highlighted by the smooth installation and unfurling of the last pair of solar wings at the international space station. The $300 million addition brought the orbiting outpost up to full power, a vital part of NASA’s plan to double the space station population and boost the amount of science work in a few months.

Discovery is bringing back former space station resident Sandra Magnus. Saturday marked her 134th day in orbit; she flew up in mid-November. Her replacement, a Japanese astronaut, was launched aboard Discovery on March 15.

The shuttle also is ferrying five months’ worth of science samples from the space station, mostly blood, urine and saliva collected by its crew members. As many vials as possible were stuffed into the shuttle freezer, with the rest put in ice packs.

Also coming back for NASA scientists: a little more than a gallon (4 to 5 liters) of recycled water that had been the astronauts’ own urine and sweat. The water was produced after Discovery delivered a new urine processor that fixed the recycling machine.

NASA hopes to have the water samples tested within a month. If the toxicology results are good, the three space station residents will be given the all-clear to start drinking the recycled water up there.

The space station, meanwhile, got more guests Saturday with the arrival of a Russian Soyuz capsule, just three days after Discovery’s departure.

Two of the newcomers — an American and a Russian — will swap places with commander Mike Fincke and cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov, who have been in orbit six months.

Billionaire space tourist Charles Simonyi, a former Microsoft executive, also flew up on the Soyuz for a 1½-week visit.

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