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NASA: Bad Weather Could Delay Shuttle Launch


The U.S. Space Agency (NASA) says everything is running smoothly ahead of Thursday's launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, assuming the weather cooperates. From Washington, VOA's Michael Bowman has details.

After resolving numerous mechanical glitches, the countdown is on for the lift-off of Atlantis, according to NASA Test Director Steve Payne.

"As of right now, the countdown is proceeding very smoothly," he said. "We have no problems to report, and we are all looking forward to Thursday afternoon's launch."

At present, there are clear skies over Florida, including Cape Canaveral. But NASA Launch Weather Officer Mike McAleenan says that will change.

"It looks like, unfortunately, today is going to be our last day of sunny, hot weather in central Florida," he said. "You can see a large mass of clouds in eastern Texas, and that is going to be coming across the country and causing some dicey [problematic] weather for our area on Thursday," he explained.

McAleenan says inclement weather could push conditions to the edge of what is considered acceptable for a shuttle launch. He says fortunately the weather outlook improves after Thursday should lift-off be postponed.

Atlantis will transport the European Space Agency's (ESA) multi-ton science lab, Columbus, to the International Space Station.

"The European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory is the most important European mission to the International Space Station to date, and the cornerstone of Europe's contribution to the International Space Station," said Mission Payload Manager Debbie Hahn. "Once Columbus completes its commissioning activities [hook-up to the space station], ESA will become an active partner in the operations and utilization of the International Space Station."

NASA hopes this will be the first of multiple shuttle launches this year as it and other space agencies work to meet a 2010 target date for completing the space station. Launches have been less frequent since the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered earth's atmosphere five years ago, necessitating greater reliance on Russian vessels for supplying the space station and rotating its crew.