Forecast worsens slightly for Sunday launch of space shuttle from Florida

Friday, August 25th 2006, 11:24 am
By: News On 6

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ The weather forecast for the launch of space shuttle Atlantis worsened slightly Friday, with storms expected in the area hours before Sunday's launch.

There was a 40 percent chance that weather at the Kennedy Space Center would prohibit a lift off at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, NASA's first launch opportunity, said Kathy Winters, shuttle weather officer.

Area storms likely will push westward before liftoff, Winters said. But NASA won't launch if there are storms within 23 miles of the shuttle landing runway, in case astronauts need to make an emergency landing.

``We're probably go red through the countdown,'' said Winters, referring to a violation.

Forecasters were also watching what was expected to become Tropical Storm Ernesto, although it wasn't expected to affect Sunday's launch.

During their 11-day mission, Atlantis' six astronauts will restart building the international space station before the cargo-carrying shuttles are retired in 2010. Construction has been delayed since the 2003 Columbia explosion, which killed seven astronauts.

Atlantis will carry a 17 1/2-ton addition for the space station, costing $372 million, from which two solar wings will be opened up. The solar arrays eventually will provide a quarter of the space station's power when it is finished.

NASA wasn't tracking any major technical issues with Atlantis, said Pete Nickolenko, a NASA test director.

``All our systems are in great shape,'' he said. ``The countdown is right on schedule.''