NASA forecasters optimistic for good weather Wednesday for launch of space shuttle Atlantis

Tuesday, September 5th 2006, 9:37 am
By: News On 6

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ The weather forecast for a Wednesday launch of space shuttle Atlantis worsened slightly Tuesday but appeared good enough for the planned liftoff.

There was a 30 percent chance that weather would prohibit the shuttle from blasting off at 12:28 p.m. Wednesday, shuttle weather officers said.

``A lot of the weather should develop after our launch time,'' shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said Tuesday. Unlike last week's planned launch attempts, the window Wednesday opens before Florida's afternoon summer thunderstorms normally blow through.

If Atlantis doesn't lift off Wednesday, NASA will try again Thursday and then Friday if necessary.

Atlantis originally was scheduled to launch Aug. 27 on a mission to resume construction of the international space station, but that launch was delayed after a lightning strike at the launch pad and then Tropical Storm Ernesto.

NASA had started to move Atlantis back to its assembly building because of Ernesto but changed course. By sending the shuttle back to the launch pad, NASA gained enough time to prepare for a launch this week.

``We intend to get this vehicle up, and with some cooperation from Mother Nature, we certainly will,'' shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said Tuesday.

Launching the shuttle past Friday would run up against the timetable for a Russian launch to the space station. The Russian space agency plans a Sept. 18 launch of a Soyuz capsule with the first international space station-bound female space tourist, Anousheh Ansari, a Dallas-area entrepreneur.

Atlantis' six astronauts have the complicated job of restarting space station construction, which was stopped after the Columbia disaster in 2003. Crew members, who have been training for four years, will deliver a 35,000-pound, $372 million addition to the half-built station. Their 11-day mission includes three spacewalks.