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Tue, Aug 29, 2006

Change Of Plans! Atlantis Rolls Back To Launch Pad

ANN REALTIME REPORTING 08.29.06 1600 EDT: This just in from NASA -- after already beginning to roll the space shuttle Atlantis back to the vehicle assembly building (VAB) in order to wait out what was originally forecast to be a strong hurricane... NASA has decided to let the orbiter stand firm against the storm on Launch Pad 39B after all.

NASA Mission Managers voted to return Atlantis to the pad after an updated weather forecast showed Tropical Storm Ernesto is predicted to skirt further west than first expected, allowing a sufficient decrease in winds to permit the shuttle to ride out the storm at the pad. Launch Director Mike Leinbach and the team made the determination at 2:40 pm EDT.

Atlantis had already begun its trek to the Vehicle Assembly Building, atop the crawler-transporter, at 10:04 am this morning.

It is unclear if NASA will require the full eight-day turnaround to make the shuttle mission-ready once Atlantis returns to the pad at approximately 8:00 pm tonight. NASA has not scheduled a new launch date for Atlantis.

In any case, it appears the decision will allow Atlantis to launch prior to September 7, the goal NASA had set for the launch so as not to conflict with a Russian Soyuz mission scheduled to be launched to the International Space Station later in September. The actual launch window for Atlantis runs through September 13.

NASA's original decision to move Atlantis back to the VAB marked the fourth time the agency decided to rollback the shuttle to wait out a storm.

It's worth noting that NASA's change of plans does not allow any room for error, should Ernesto unexpectedly strengthen, or change course -- as there will now be no time to move the shuttle back to the VAB before the storm hits Florida.

No doubt these guys know what they're doing... but we imagine there will still be some nervous skywatching going on at the Cape, weather forecast or no...



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