Ernesto delays launch of shuttle

August 29, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- With Tropical Storm Ernesto's sluggish but inexorable approach, workers at Kennedy Space Center began preparing to take the space shuttle Atlantis off the launch pad.

Shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach said the preference would be to begin moving the shuttle to its hangar this morning: "We'd much rather be back in ... earlier rather than later."

Weather forecasts yesterday indicated that hurricane-force winds could pass within miles of the launch facilities by tomorrow afternoon.

There remained a small possibility of getting the launch off this weekend if the storm turns eastward into the Atlantic Ocean, instead of over Central Florida. In that case, the shuttle could ride out the storm on the launch pad.

That seemed a remote possibility yesterday as National Aeronautics and Space Administration employees from other regions of the country began returning home.

Atlantis had been scheduled to launch Sunday, but that was scrubbed after a bolt of lightning hit the pad Friday. It was the most powerful lightning strike ever measured at the launch pad.

Although NASA managers said the shuttle electronics were not affected, they found themselves facing a new problem in Ernesto.

If the shuttle is moved back to its hangar, it would take at least eight days to return it to the launch pad after the storm.

The next launch window after this is Oct. 20-Nov. 15.

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