John Herrington's first shuttle flight has set a new record ? but it isn't one he wanted to hold. The schedule originally called for a landing in Florida on Wednesday. But bad weather kept the shuttle in orbit another day. And then another. And now ? for the first time in the space shuttle's 21 years of operations ? NASA has extended a mission four days due to bad weather.
Flight director Wayne Hale said: "We did come here [on Friday] to land the shuttle. Unfortunately the weather officer was right on the mark. This has been quite a string of [bad] weather in Florida which has prevented us from landing at the Kennedy Space Center."
NASA considers it extremely desirable to land the shuttle in Florida. If a shuttle mission is diverted to the alternate site in California it takes a week to prepare the shuttle for a cross-country flight back to Florida on the back of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, plus any additional weather delays during that flight. It costs approximately $1 Million in fuel for the trip plus overtime and travel expenses for the turnaround team.
The weather forecast is optimistic for Saturday in Florida but NASA will have support teams at the backup landing site in California, just in case.
Capcom Stan Love informed the crew aboard the International Space Station saying, "They'll be landing tomorrow in one sunny state or the other." Ken Bowersox in space replied, "I'm sure the STS-113 orbiter crew (Herrington and his crewmates) was happy to get a couple of extra days in orbit." Love replied, "We're sure they're having a good time."
If the weather cooperates tomorrow Endeavour will return to
Florida. Otherwise managers will give Herrington's crew instructions to land in California instead.