KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. -- Improved wind conditions increased chances for a pre-dawn launch of the shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, but cloudy skies were threatening delay of today's flight.
The Shuttle Endeavour and its seven-person crew were scheduled to lift off at 4:27 a.m. with a launch window that extended through 5:38 a.m. NASA scrubbed yesterday morning's planned flight because brisk crosswinds and scattered showers threatened the Kennedy Center site where Endeavour would have to land if it developed problems after liftoff.
While the winds were not expected to be a problem this morning, Air Force Captain Dean Hazen, a mission weather forecaster, predicted that a ceiling of low clouds could keep Endeavour from its much-anticipated rendezvous with the blurry-eyed space telescope, now orbiting about 377 miles above Earth.
The 11-day mission is NASA's best hope to repair the telescope's flawed primary mirror, replace worn-out parts that threaten the planned 15-year life span of the observatory and restore the space agency's reputation. Hubble's misshapen mirror, discovered within two months of the telescope's deployment in April 1990, has embarrassed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The decision to scrub yesterday's flight came within seven minutes of the close of the shuttle's 6:04 a.m. launch window.
"Naturally, we're disappointed that weather kept us from getting into orbit today. . . . We're anxious to get to work on our Hubble servicing tasks," mission commander Dick Covey said later.
The persistent crosswinds exceeded the mission's 15-knot limit, so launch director Robert N. Sieck scrubbed the flight.
"It looks like the winds are beyond our control," he told the shuttle crew.
The astronauts, who have been training for this mission for more than a year, weren't the only ones disappointed.
"It's a matter of being patient," said Dr. Ken Carpenter, a telescope scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center, the NASA facility in Greenbelt, Md., that operates the telescope. "We've waited three years to get this thing put together. We can wait a day to get it done safely and make sure it's right."
Although NASA had always planned to service the telescope this year, the mission took on greater urgency once officials discovered that the telescope's primary mirror was the wrong shape.
The Endeavour crew will attempt an unprecedented five spacewalks to install corrective optics aboard Hubble and replace other equipment crucial to the $1.6 billion observatory.
To hear updates on the expected launch earlier this morning of the shuttle Endeavour, call Sundial, the Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800 (268-7736 in Anne Arundel County, 836-5028 in Harford County, 848-0338 in Carroll County) and punch in the four-digit code 6116 after you hear the greeting.