Thu, Aug 31, 2006
May Allow Nighttime Launch If Schedule Depends On It
Following a less-severe
weather forecast, and NASA's decision to return the shuttle
Atlantis to the launch pad... it now appears the space agency has a
fighting chance of launching the orbiter before its target date of
September 7. But if for some reason that doesn't happen, NASA
managers are discussing a backup option -- launching Atlantis at
Since the return-to-flight launch of Discovery in 2004, NASA has
required orbiters to be launched in the light of day -- so cameras
can capture detailed photographs of the ship's heat shield and
external tank, all in the name of keeping an eye on the problematic
foam insulation used on the tank.
That requirement was due to end following the launch of STS-115
-- Atlantis -- but NASA now says it may be worth launching Atlantis
at night, if the agency can't meet the September 7 goal -- and the
Russians aren't willing to delay their launch of a Soyuz mission
scheduled for a week later.
NASA's launch window for Atlantis runs through September 13 --
meaning there are still plenty of daylight launch opportunities
available, as long as the Russians are willing to wait a few days
-- and that is still the preferred option.
However, if it comes down to a question of launching Atlantis at
night, or waiting for the next daytimelaunch window in October...
NASA will likely decide on a predawn launch of the orbiter after
the Soyuz returns to earth September 29 -- in order to adhere as
much as possible to the agency's tight launch schedule for the
shuttle program's remaining flights.
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