Weather delays Columbia again
Morning landing still hopeful
December 6, 1996
Web posted at: 4:30 a.m. EST
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (REUTER) -- NASA ordered the astronauts aboard the space shuttle Columbia to skip their first possible landing attempt Friday, but said the shuttle might be able to land once early morning sunshine burned away patches of fog at its Florida runway landing site.
A combination of fog and low clouds from a cold front moving
across Florida made the planned 8:01 a.m. EST touchdown unsafe, said Eileen Hawley, a spokeswoman for the
If the weather cleared in time, the astronauts would have a
second chance to land on Friday at 9:38 a.m. EST.
The shuttle's main back-up landing strip at Edwards Air
Force Base in California was ruled out for Friday because of
gusty winds. The space agency prefers to land the
shuttle in Florida whenever possible to save the $1 million cost of ferrying the orbiter from California.
The crew was minutes away from firing Columbia's
braking rockets to begin their descent when flight controllers called off the planned landing.
"The flight control team advised the crew aboard Columbia
that the first opportunity would be waved off in hopes of better conditions for a second opportunity," Hawley said.
The astronauts are equipped with five additional days' worth
of food, oxygen and supplies and can safely remain in orbit
until one of its two primary landing sites is available.
The delay also pushed Columbia's crew closer to setting a
new record for longest shuttle flight. If the orbiter lands on Friday morning, it will rank as the second-longest shuttle
mission, falling shy of a record by just four hours. The record for the longest mission was set last July by a different crew aboard the Columbia, which stayed aloft for 17
The mission, which began Nov. 19, was marred by a jammed airlock hatch that forced NASA to cancel a pair of space walks. Astronauts Tammy Jernigan and Tom Jones spent months training for the spacewalks, which had been intended to test construction tools for the planned permanent space station.
The astronauts were awakened at 9:26 p.m. EST Thursday
evening to begin stowing gear and making other landing
"Good morning, Columbia. It's flight day 17 and we're ready
to bring you home," said ground controller Marc Garneau after
playing an audiocassette of "Nobody Does It Better" to wake up the crew.
Another problem cropped up this week when a crucial
navigation tool stopped working. The shuttle is equipped with
two other back-up inertial measurement units to guide it home.
The astronauts released and later retrieved two science
satellites. A U.S.-German telescope studied the life cycles of stars and a prototype computer chip factory manufactured
ultra-pure semiconductors for the electronics industry.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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