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Space Shuttle Landing Delayed Because of Bad Weather - 2002-12-06


Bad weather has forced the longest landing delay in the 21-year history of the U.S. space shuttle program. Flight controllers have postponed the shuttle return for the third consecutive day.

Space shuttles land like airplanes, so visibility to the ground must be good. But continuous cloud cover over the eastern United States is obscuring the landing site in Florida.

So, the shuttle astronauts and the three U.S. and Russian crewmembers they are bringing back from the international space station must wait at least one more day. If the skies clear, Endeavour has two opportunities for a Florida landing on Saturday. If not, flight controllers will consider diverting it to Edwards Air Force Base in California, on the other side of the country.

The space agency NASA says the Saturday weather forecast for both locations looks acceptable. Endeavour has enough fuel and other supplies to land as late as Sunday.

NASA prefers landing in Florida where the shuttles are processed and launched because it costs nearly $1 million to transport one from California on the back of a jumbo jetliner.

With the latest landing delay, the returning space station crew has now been aloft 184 days. That is about 1.5 months longer than originally planned, mostly because technical problems and the weather postponed the shuttle launch several times.

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