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Rain in Spain makes NASA wait again

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. - The next shot at the space shuttle launch that would take Chickasaw astronaut John Herrington to the Space Station could be tonight, Nov. 23, at 7:49:47 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).

The weather in Florida was close to perfect for the second launch attempt for John Herrington's STS-113 shuttle mission on Nov. 22. But as expected, the weather for the emergency landing sites in Spain was the show stopper.

NASA's flight rules require acceptable weather in at least one of the two "Trans-Atlantic Landing," or TAL sites in Spain. Moron (last syllable rhymes with 'bone') was forecast to be no-go. But Zaragosa, about 400 miles away, was slightly better, with the possibility of good weather. It turned out that there were showers within 23 miles of the runway, a condition which violates the flight rules. The TAL runway would only be used if a main engine failure occurred between two minutes 26 minutes and six minutes four seconds after launch.

But at least Herrington got to enter the shuttle and strap into his seat. It's actually something he is very familiar with, more than anybody else in his crew. For two and a half years Herrington was a member of the close-out team which helps the astronauts into the shuttle and straps them into their seats. Herrington last had the honors in July 2001 before his assignment to the STS-113 mission.

Launch director Mike Leinbach radioed the shuttle with the bad news about the scrub, saying "Unfortunately, we didn't get there with TAL weather tonight. We did have a good vehicle ready for you and good local weather, but we need a TAL site. So we're going to declare a scrub at this time. Come back tomorrow night and try again."

Flights to the space station have extremely short launch windows because of the space station's orbit, and the desire to carry as much payload as possible. The shuttle must launch at the proper time in the day when the space station's orbit passes over the launch site. With more fuel it would be possible to have a longer launch window, but managers would prefer to use that weight for more cargo instead. Missions which don't go to the space station have longer launch windows, and it's possible to "sit out" bad weather and wait until acceptable weather comes along. But with short launch windows it's typically a go if there's good weather / no go if there's unacceptable weather choice, without much flexibility.

Unfortunately the outlook for weather for the next couple of days in Spain is also pessimistic. The shuttle has enough supplies to try three out of the next four days. If the shuttle does not launch by Nov. 26, then the ground team would need to go back into the shuttle to top off the super-cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen spheres. On orbit they're used to generate electricity to operate the shuttle and also provide the oxygen the crew breathes. It would take about three days before the next possible launch attempt if that happened.