Clouds ruin NASA's plans to launch Shuttle Discovery

Stymied once already this week by clouds, NASA is looking toward the weekend to try to get the space shuttle Discovery off the ground, skipping a Friday attempt because of a downright dismal forecast.

But the weekend weather is predicted to be only slightly better. Yet NASA is aiming toward a 8:47 p.m. EST Saturday (0147 GMT Sunday) launch try.

Discovery could not lift off Thursday night because of thick low-level clouds above the launch pad, violating a NASA rule that requires clouds be high enough so that engineers can track the shuttle's ascent. Thursday's launch scrub cost $500,000 (Ђ376,000).

With only a 30 percent chance of good weather Saturday, NASA managers late Thursday discussed the possibility of waiting until Sunday to try to launch, but opted to stay with Saturday, spokeswoman Jessica Rye said. Officials wanted "a little more flexibility in their options," she said.

The odds for good weather improve to 40 percent on Sunday and Monday. Wind, rain and clouds are forecast to be a problem Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

NASA finally gets a better than even chance for good weather on Tuesday at 60 percent.

The space agency can make two launch attempts in a row before standing down a third day, Rye said.

While Thursday night's weather was a nail-biting tease of NASA with a last minute decision not to launch, Friday's forecast proved anything but a close call with winds, rain and only a 10 percent chance of clear skies.

"It didn't look it's a wise decision to even try it" on Friday, NASA chief spokesman David Mould told The Associated Press.

But on Thursday, hope lived at NASA. Less than an hour before launch, the skies had appeared to clear enough, but then the clouds built back up.

"We gave it the best shot and didn't get clear and convincing evidence that the cloud ceiling had cleared for us," launch director Mike Leinbach told Discovery's seven astronauts.

Discovery's astronauts, after more than four hours on the launch pad, remained fairly upbeat. Astronaut Sunita "Sunny" Williams, who mugged for the cameras on the way into Discovery, ran up to the cameras and waved hello on the way out of shuttle.

During the 12-day mission, Discovery's astronauts will rewire the space station, bring up a new 2-ton addition to the space lab and move Williams into the station.

NASA hopes to launch by Dec. 17 because of a potential clock problem with the new year. But if Discovery is still on the ground on Dec. 18, then the space agency will probably keep trying to launch, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said.

"The clock problem is an annoyance, but it's not a real problem in the sense that we know how to deal with it," Griffin said.

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