Atlantis's return to Earth foiled again by high winds
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
Posted: February 19, 2001
Commander Kenneth Cockrell and his four crewmates will have two landing opportunities in Florida on Tuesday and two in California. While the forecast for Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert remains somewhat marginal, good conditions are expected in Florida.
If all else fails, the forecast for NASA's "last-resort" shuttle landing field at White Sands, N.M., calls for acceptable conditions.
Already running a day late because of gusty crosswinds, Cockrell and company had hoped to land back at the Florida spaceport at 1:27 p.m. to close out a near-perfect mission to attach the $1.38 billion Destiny laboratory module to the international space station.
But crosswinds gusting as high as 18 knots - 3 knots above NASA's 15-knot safety limit - prompted Cain to order a one-orbit delay in hopes conditions would improve.
They didn't, and at 1:13 p.m., while the astronauts were preparing for a deorbit burn that would have set up a touchdown at 3:03 p.m., astronaut Scott Altman in mission control radioed up the bad news.
"After looking at KSC, we had the forecast for the winds to swing around a little bit and alleviate some of the crosswind concern," Altman reported.
"We haven't seen that movement as much as the model expected. We still have peaks of 19 knots, there are some clouds moving into the area, also a concern with some precip within 30. Bottom line is we're waving off for today. We do have three sites for tomorrow, all of them have 'go' forecasts at this time."
"We'll config for payload bay door opening and get the doors open," Cockrell replied.
Cockrell and his current crewmates - pilot Mark Polansky, flight engineer Marsha Ivins and spacewalkers Robert Curbeam and Thomas Jones - originally hoped to land Sunday, but back-to-back deorbit opportunities were blocked by high crosswinds in the wake of a frontal system's passage.
Atlantis has enough propellant, electrical power and crew supplies to remain in orbit until Wednesday in a worst-case scenario. But it is not expected to come to that.
The forecast for the Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday calls for scattered clouds at 4,500 feet and winds from 110 degrees at nine knots gusting to 16 knots. That translates into a crosswind component of about 10 knots.
The outlook for Edwards calls for scattered clouds at 5,000 feet, broken cloud decks at 10,000 and 20,000 feet and a chance for a broken deck at 5,000 feet, which would violate NASA's flight rules. Winds will be from 230 degrees at eight knots with gusts to 12.
See the path Atlantis would follow during landing opportunities Tuesday in our STS-98 Landing Tracker.
KSC Orbit 200 - touchdown in Florida at 1727 GMT.
KSC Orbit 201 - touchdown in Florida at 1902 GMT.
EAFB Orbit 202 - touchdown in California at 2033 GMT.
EAFB Orbit 203 - touchdown in California at 2209 GMT.
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