One more day in space: NASA postpones shuttle landing

NASA now hopes for Saturday Atlantis landing after unstable weather forces "no go" today

It'll be one more day in space for the crew of the NASA space shuttle Atlantis.

With rain coming down and thunderstorms expected at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA officials waved off today's scheduled shuttle landing. Two possible landing times - 10:01 a.m. EDT and 11:39 a.m. EDT - were rejected by officials on the ground. NASA reported that the landing is "officially [a] 'no go' due to thunderstorms, low cloud ceilings and showers consistently popping up offshore and over land."

Atlantis is now slated to land at the Kennedy facility tomorrow at 9:16 a.m. EDT. Edwards Air Force Base in California has been activated as a backup landing site, NASA said.

The crew has been aloft on what was expected to be an 11-day mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. After 19 years in space, the orbiter received all new batteries, new gyroscopes and a new computer unit, along with a new wide-field camera and spectrograph, which acts as a sort of outer-space prism, separating light from the universe into its component colors, giving scientists a "wavelength fingerprint" of any object.

Malcolm Niedner, deputy senior project scientist for Hubble, told Computerworld yesterday that the fixes and upgrades have made Hubble more powerful than ever and more able to make discoveries that weren't even considered before.

"We always take Hubble's capabilities forward by factors of 10, 20 and 30 in key performance areas," said Niedner, who has been on the Hubble team for 16 years and involved in all five of its servicing missions. "Hubble is absolutely at the top of its game."

And he added that with Hubble upgraded and souped up, the orbiting telescope will soon be looking out toward the edge of the observable universe, probing the early history of the cosmos.

"This is going to open up very important possibilities for Hubble that we just didn't have before," said Niedner.

The astronauts released Hubble from the shuttle's payload bay on Tuesday. Scientists now will spend the next four months or so testing and calibrating the new instruments before Hubble begins its scientific observations.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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