NASA's Discovery missed its first two opportunities to land today because of cloudy, rainy weather near Kennedy Space Center in Florida and mission managers will now attempt to have the space shuttle land in California.
The next landing attempt will be at 8:12 a.m. New York time at Edwards Air Force Base, launch and landing communicator and astronaut Ken Ham told Discovery's crew in a radio call broadcast live on National Aeronautics and Space Administration television.
Thunderstorms off the coast of Florida were creating electrified clouds that are expected to bring lightning to Kennedy Space Center, and NASA regulations prevent the shuttle from returning if there are storms, rain and lightning within 30 nautical miles of the landing site, according to Bloomberg.
"How do you feel about a beautiful, clear night with a breeze down the runway in the high desert of California?" astronaut Ken Ham radioed from Mission Control in Houston to shuttle commander Eileen Collins.
"We are ready for whatever we need to do," Collins replied. Discovery also could land at the secondary backup site, the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico, at 6:39 a.m. EDT (1039 GMT) or 8:13 a.m. EDT (1213 GMT), Reuters informs.
The landing will bring to a close NASA's first shuttle mission since Discovery's sister ship, Columbia, was destroyed on Feb. 1, 2003, 16 minutes from landing.
NASA spent $1 billion on repairs and safety upgrades. But a chunk of insulating foam almost as large as the one that damaged Columbia flew off Discovery's fuel tank at launch on July 26, telling NASA managers they had failed to fix the problem.
The space agency grounded the shuttle fleet again and said they would not fly until the foam problem is solved.
Discovery spent nine days at the International Space Station on a servicing and resupply mission. The crew delivered a new steering gyroscope to the outpost and revived a second failed device.
The astronauts also made the shuttle program's first in-flight heat shield repair. Astronaut Stephen Robinson rode the space station's robot arm to Discovery's belly to remove two protruding cloth strips from the smooth surface of the ship's belly.
NASA managers were concerned the strips could disrupt air flow over the shuttle and raise temperatures beyond what the shuttle can withstand.
NASA prefers landing the shuttle in Florida rather than California. A landing at Edwards involves a week of processing time, a $1 million expense and the risks associated with a cross-country ferry flight to return a shuttle to Florida. (Additional reporting by Jim Loney in Cape Canaveral)
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